Holidaymakers are being misled and pressured into spending money by travel website Booking.com despite regulators' attempts to crack down on such tactics, a watchdog has warned.
An investigation by consumer group Which? found that hotels described on Booking.com as having “only one room left” were incorrect half of the time. In five out of 10 cases there were further rooms still available.
James Daley of Fairer Finance, a consumer rights group, said: “Across the whole travel industry you see lots of these pressure-selling tactics. People are whipped up into spending money without reflection.”
One of the hotels Which? found advertised as having only one room available, the four-star Park Plaza Westminster Bridge, offered customers a “secret deal” on a superior double room with a price of £232.
There were in fact a further 34 rooms available in the same hotel on the same date. Of these 10 were also superior doubles available for £6 less per night, although with an internal view.
This is in spite of recent orders from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), a government regulator, issued to hotel booking sites to stop using misleading claims to pressure customers into making reservations.
It told websites including Booking.com, Expedia and Hotels.com to stop displaying messages that give a false impression of a hotel’s popularity and said that such pressure tactics, as well as failing to display full costs upfront, could amount to breaches of consumer law.
“It’s shocking that these firms are able to ignore the CMA’s orders,” Mr Daley said. “Companies aren’t scared because they know the regulator doesn’t have enough resources or power to take further action. It makes a mockery of consumer protection.”
A CMA spokesman said: “We are aware of this isolated issue with Booking.com and have already raised it with the site. They have assured us it will be quickly fixed.
"If we find that Booking.com or any other hotel booking sites use misleading statements then we will not hesitate to take further action.”
A Booking.com spokesman said: "We have worked hard to implement the commitments agreed with the CMA and are working closely with authorities like the CMA on industry wide improvements."
He added that the company is working on improving its service, including the introduction of new ways to tell customers about "the availability and popularity of specific properties".