We recently had a short break on another continent and used a well-known booking website in order to book a hotel. Our booking was based on the information provided on, or rather through that website. There was no other source of information on the hotel in question and it seemed to suit our needs according to what information was available to us. So we were a little surprised to find that the hotel was very basic and did not compare well to the advertisement. We have since taken this up with the booking website and the advertised facilities have been changed. Of course, the website itself disclaims everything under the sun, not their fault, etc.

This leads me though to the question of trust. The web has become a rather tenuous place, what with search results generally useless unless you are very clever with search terms. Results are filled with hopeless information that is generally light years from what you want. It seems, then, that hotel booking websites are going the same way. Rely as they may on their disclaimers, where there is no other source of information regarding a hotel one must ‘trust’ what is published on these portals and lay the blame for any unforeseen issues at their door. Or are we destined to only use them for an introduction and after this communicate directly with each hotel? If so, what use are they?

Someone simply looking to book a hotel and find the best deal is going to base their decisions on what is set out before them by the booking website. Surely these websites need to take a lot more care over their advertisements. If a hotel states that it has a continental breakfast one should not expect just a bit of toast. If it says the room has a coffee maker then a coffee maker should be in the room.

To my mind these companies cannot hide behind the same kind of ‘mere conduit’ ideas that protect Internet providers because they are themselves a service. You go to them so they can help you make a choice. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has already investigated the sector and carried out enforcement actions against some of these websites. Their angle is to do with competition so is not relevant in the case I outline here but I do wonder if the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) may take an interest. I have yet to fully digest the findings as it is not an area of law in which I have practiced. However, the law is not a mystery to me and this is one of those niggling issues that I tend not to drop…