Hotel online-booking probe: settlement. The UK’s antitrust authority, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), has closed its investigation into Booking.com B.V., Expedia Inc and InterContinental Hotels Group plc (“IHG”) (together, the parties). The OFT’s investigation centred on competition concerns that Booking and Expedia each entered into separate agreements with IHG which restricted Booking’s and Expedia’s ability to discount the rates at which room- only hotel accommodation bookings were offered to consumers. Following a consultation on the revised commitments proposed by the parties, the OFT formally accepted the commitments on 31 January 2014. All online travel agents (OTAs) and hotels that deal with the parties will be able to offer discounts off headline room-only rates so long as customers sign up to a membership scheme and make one undiscounted booking before being eligible for the cut rates. Such discounts may be funded by commissions received by the travel agents. The commitments address the OFT’s concerns, allowing greater competition on price between OTAs and also between OTAs and hotels. The commitments will apply to bookings made by European Economic Area residents for rooms in UK hotels for a period of two years.
Infringement decisions: distribution of Mercedes- Benz vehicles. The OFT has published the full non- confidential versions of its March 2013 infringement decisions finding that Mercedes-Benz (MB) and five of its commercial vehicles dealers infringed competition law. The OFT imposed fines totalling over £2.8 million.
The OFT launched a formal investigation into suspected breaches of the Chapter I prohibition in the distribution of MB commercial vehicles in January 2010. The OFT issued a statement of objections to MB and five dealers of MB vehicles in June 2012 and, in March 2013, announced it had issued five separate decisions finding that MB and the dealers had infringed the Chapter I prohibition. Each of the five decisions relates to separate infringements that took place over different periods between March 2007 and January 2010, involving different parties. The nature of the infringements varies, but all contain at least some element of market sharing, price coordination or exchange of commercially sensitive information aiming to dampen competition for vehicle sales in the dealers’ respective areas. MB was found to have participated in one of the infringements by contributing to the agreement or the concerted practice among the relevant dealers. Links to the non- confidential versions of the decisions can be found here.
Jessica Mayhall, Maria Scott