On 21 April 2015 the Italian, Swedish and French competition authorities announced the achievement of a settlement with Booking.com, at the time under investigation for having included in its agreement with partner hotels price (and other conditions) parity clauses in alleged breach of EU and national competition laws.
As a background, last May the Italian Competition Authority (Autorità garante della concorrenza e del mercato, “Agcm”) opened an investigation against Booking.com B.V., Booking.com Italia and Expedia on the so-called most favored nation (“MFN”) clauses, which were not allowing hotels using Booking.com platform to offer their services at prices lower than -or terms better than- the ones offered on Booking.com to other online and offline booking agencies (including the websites of the partner hotels themselves).
Such clauses were suspected to restrict competition on both the fees required by online travel agencies to hotels and the prices of hotel rooms, to the detriment, lastly, of final consumers.
During the investigation, Booking.com proposed a settlement, undertaking to adopt “narrower” MFN clauses which would apply to prices and other conditions offered by partner hotels only through their own websites, with an additional exception for those customers holding fidelity cards. Partner hotels will be free to set prices and conditions with other online travel agencies and on their direct offline channels. The commitments were accepted by Agcm and by the National Competition Authorities of France and Sweden as well; the changes will come into force on July 1, 2015 and apply for a period of 5 years.
In Italy the proceeding is still pending for Expedia, which did not take on those commitments. It will be interesting to see how Agcm will decide on Expedia’s case so as to have a clearer picture of the lawful practices in the world of online hotel booking.