Holidaymakers are being ripped off by scams originating from online travel agents with fake reviews and rigged pricing.
According to a report from the House of Lords, travel agents are spying on the computer history of customers and using their details to charge them more for their holidays.
The House of Lords EU Committee has called on the UK competition regulator to investigate the current practices of online travel agents described as “intimidating hoteliers and misleading consumers”.
“As people go online to book this year's summer breaks, holidaymakers are at risk of being scammed into paying for accommodation, flights and packages that are vastly overpriced, or worse, do not exist. What's extremely concerning is that fake reviews on holiday websites mean that even the most cautious customers are being tricked into a false sense of security,” Stuart Fuller, director of commercial operations at NetNames commented in an email to SCMagazineUK.com
Travel providers are offering controversial “personalised” pricing in which information provided or revealed by customers is being used to determine an individual price for a specific item or service.
Websites gather information about potential customers through web cookies, allowing them to remember people's computers, selected preferences, and how many times they visited a page. The online travel sites then jack up prices for people that have visited them time and again or conducted a search for a specific holiday several times.
“The online travel agent sector is a particular concern. We heard that the use of price parity clauses, which require hotels to offer online travel agents their best price, stifled competition and harmed consumers. Even though some of these price restrictions have been banned, we heard allegations that online travel agents had intimidated hotels for offering better deals to their competitors. Moreover, witnesses described a number of practices by online travel agents intended to mislead consumers. We urge the Competition and Markets Authority to carry out a rapid market investigation into this sector,” said Lord Whitty, chairman of the House of Lords EU Committee.
“One way to increase consumer trust in online platforms is the creation of a traffic-light style kite-mark on all websites and apps, to show good practice on privacy policies,” Whitty said. This would help holidaymakers across the EU identify rogue websites and see which platforms are the trustworthiest.
The House of Lords recommend consumers to clear cookies, remove browser history, be wary of surveys and detailed forms containing personal information, watch out for jumping prices, and be wary of rip-off credit card fees.
The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau says fraudsters are costing travellers £2.2m a year from fake websites, email scams and fake ads. When in doubt, check website addresses and make sure online travel agents belong to an accredited association, for example the association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) or the British Global and Travel Health Association (BGTHA).