Opinion

Here We Go Again — Same Old SOBS Story

For the third time in as many Congresses, the hotel lobby has succeeded in convincing some on Capitol Hill that tens of millions of people are being scammed by third-party hotel booking sites. The Stop Online Booking Scams Act, or SOBS Act, purports to protect consumers in an environment that, according to the hotel lobby, is a scourge on American society. The problem with such claims is that no media source, no consumer organization, government entity or any third-party organization has validated this outlandish claim that these “booking scams” are actually happening.

The American Hotel & Lodging Association’s claim is unsubstantiated.

Despite this, the hotel lobby is forging full steam ahead with this shameful narrative. This would handcuff their own industry partners with pointless regulatory burdens and could scare consumers into sacrificing the benefits of choice and a competitive marketplace by booking “directly” with hotels.

The problem is that online travel agencies are enormously popular with consumers. These iconic companies provide travelers everything they need to search, compare, and book their next trip. OTAs provide a convenient platform for planning and booking travel and have changed the game for travel consumers. The American public has placed its trust in OTAs in recognition of the benefits they provide.

The future sought by the hotel lobby would mean less competition and higher prices. Consumers could only book “directly,” with no ability to comparison shop, find great deals, book flight/hotel/car packages, or leverage the convenient technology deployed by OTAs.

The SOBS Act seeks to scare consumers away from OTAs and toward hotel websites. Rather than battle it out in the marketplace where consumers can make up their own minds, the hotel lobby has turned to Congress to tilt the playing field in its favor, at the expense of consumers.

On top of this, the Federal Trade Commission has already informed Congress and the hotel lobby in a 2017 report that it already has all the tools it needs to combat unfair and deceptive practices.

Online travel agencies facilitate the booking of more than 1 billion room nights each year globally. Consumers continue to use these platforms because they appreciate the ability to shop across brands, find options they would not have found otherwise, book packages and maximize the bang for their buck—  all in an easy, convenient booking environment that reduces time and hassle.

Hotels willingly partner with OTAs to help market unsold rooms. In fact, the commercial relationship between hotels and OTAs is positive, which is why this war being waged by AH&LA is even more perplexing.

Instead of picking sides in a longstanding tug of war between hotels and OTAs, Congress should once again reject the SOBS Act outright and urge the hotel lobby to stop wasting everyone’s time and energy and focus on real consumer issues.

Steve Shur is the president of the Travel Technology Association.

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