Algorithms to Delight

Are you the sort of person to colour-code your keys or key-rings?

If so, you’re likely a bit of a nerd, sure, but you’ve made your life easier by applying a simple algorithm for finding a particular key amid a pile of other keys. If you’re not gaining a little pleasure every time your algorithm works, perhaps it’s time to start. It’s simple and clever.

I have no such system. I have unmarked keys everywhere. Any time I need to find one, I have to wade through linty jacket pocket after linty jacket pocket. If that doesn’t work, I’m off fumbling between the sofa cushions. And then I repeat the process.

After researching algorithms recently, I discovered that computer scientists call my type of key finding algorithm a “shit algorithm”. I get that. I leave the house frustrated every single time. My algorithm for finding keys is not delighting me.

My Algorithm for Delight

I have better algorithm though. In fact, my food ordering algorithm appears to be one of the best on the market, so I want to share it with you. It’s very simple.

I start by reading the menu top down, like normal people, and I stop at the first dish that catches my fancy. That’s the one I order. Then I put the menu down, and continue ogling the waitresses, Trump-stylee.

In the process of ogling, I completely forget about my food until I hear “who ordered the porcini mushroom lasagne?”. Then I pause my ogling and think: gosh, that sounds nice!

And suddenly it’s there, in front of me, exactly the dish I would have wanted if I’d chosen it myself. I’m delighted. My algorithm surprises and delights me, and my food tastes all the better for it.

Your Algorithm for Disappointment

That’s not your algorithm though. If I may hazard a guess, yours looks more like this. Read the starters a bit, but not really, and then move on the mains and dessert. You’re just glossing over at this point, picking out the odd sautéed potato perhaps. And then you go back to the start.

And, following the instructions of your algorithm, you perform this same process, in increasing degrees of agitation, as the growing volume of food data starts spinning your mind. Your head is now awash with asparagus and tiramisu. And you still haven’t decided.

With the time and effort it has taken you to read the menu, your blood sugar level has started to dip until you can barely read any more. And, even as the waiter comes over to take your order, you’re performing a final whirlwind review of the menu to make 101.1% sure you didn’t miss anything on your first 99 reads.

Your decision is becoming urgent, yet unbearable, and when you do finally have to commit to choosing something, you’re both fearful and exhausted. Yet, you can’t even relax after you’ve ordered. The next part of your algorithm – paranoia over future food envy – requires you to question your choice again and again, until you go all but nuts.

When your order arrives, you finally snap out of your slump, and like a starved prisoner finally receiving some sustenance, you devour your food not so much for the flavour but simply to stay alive. If the food is not as good as you’d hoped – as so often happens after the scrutiny you’ve invested in ordering – you’re disappointed, yet again.

These algorithm things are personal, of course, and only you can know whether your food ordering algorithm is as well tuned as it could be. For all I know, perhaps you get a perverse kick from hyper-anxiety just before eating and, like a gambler, you’re more addicted to failure than success.

With that said, I’ll leave you to ponder whether you want to take another look at your food ordering algorithm, just to make sure it’s really working at its full potential.

In the meantime, I need to find my keys. And wallet. And phone.

B**king No!

Open Letter to Alex Chisholm, Chief Executive of the Competition and Markets Authority

Dear Alex,

It will have come to your notice that has finally agreed to stop price fixing in Europe, five years after the matter was brought to the attention of your competition authority (CMA).

According to the EU this concession by may have come too late. It notes that has achieved such an advantage in that time we may have already reached the “point of no return”.

I’m sure you don’t need reminding, but for the sake of my readers I’ll draw your attention back to the fact that the CMA attempted to assist’s price fixing strategy.

In 2014, the CMA very nearly managed to enshrine price fixing in law by rubber-stamping a proposal by that was so irrational it begged belief. Indeed, it was only because two travel agents took the matter to appeal that this proposal didn’t make it into the market and assist further.

I must also remind you and my readers that the CMA not only sought to defend its position in court but also tried to pervert the course of justice by willfully withholding what the tribunal later termed “crucial evidence”.

Whilst I don’t want to distract attention away from, which to this day deceiving customers with its Best Rate Guarantee, nor Expedia and Intercontinental Hotels, which persist with their price fixing strategies, I hold the CMA responsible for allowing to get to the position that it was able to assert undue dominance over the hotel industry to the detriment of the consumer.

For all that, I don’t want to rake over old ground other than to draw people’s attention to the fact that the CMA was instructed by the tribunal to reopen its case against There’s no evidence that has happened in the six months since the order was made.

Whether or not that’s legal in itself, I am aware that the CMA is due to update the case in May and I trust that it will rule in favour of the consumer this time to restore the reputation of your competition authority.

Kind regards,

Dorian Harris
Founder, Skoosh

Deranged Marriages, Sanity on Trial

Next week we’ll come to the final chapter of a story crazy enough to rival Catch 22 and Alice in Wonderland.

It started with a call from the Fairest Authority in the Land (F.A.i.L), travelled across the Atlantic to the States, back across toOFC Calling Card continental Europe, and concludes next week in a court case where we’ll see the Competition Authority and the largest companies in the travel industry on trial, along with my sanity.

Jump back four years and you’ll find me sheltering by a wall in a pub car-park in Land’s End, the wind and rain sweeping in across the sea, my phone pressed tight against my ear to try and catch what these Fair people are telling me. I can just make out that they want to see me as a matter of urgency.

They would, of course. That part of the story was pre-written. I had reported industry-wide corruption, alleging a vast system of benefit cheats and arranged marriages, with lesser charges of racketeering, cannibalism and incest. There was no way this could be swept under even the deepest of legal rugs.

That night, after the warmth of a few ales dissipates, I will very nearly die of hypothermia in a sleeping bag and tent entirely unsuited to gales and driving rain, but I wake knowing that a story is coming together and it’s entering Hollywood territory.

The press were enchanted by my tale and more than one paper wanted to run it as a modern day ‘David & Goliath’. As much as I liked their enthusiasm, that wasn’t how I wanted the story pitched.

For a start, the original David wasn’t a snitch, nor did he take shelter behind an Authority with the power to whack Goliath so hard in the wallet he’d be living off food stamps for the rest of his natural born life. The journos got my point, toned down their copy, and even the less dramatic version made it to the front pages.

The middle chapters will have to wait for ‘The Book’. For now we jump forward three years. I’m sitting across the perfectly fair table, drinking perfectly fair tea, conversing with perfectly unreasonable people. They’re trying to convince me that the trio they’d investigated off the back of my complaints had put forward a compelling defence claiming they merit disability allowance on account of their being obese.

I may not have put it quite so mildly but I remember proposing that the defendants shouldn’t eat so much greasy food. The Fair Office told me it was none of my business what their clients ate. ‘I’m not worried about what they eat’ I said, exasperated. ‘I’m concerned that they’re claiming benefits and they’re not even married!’.

“To the extent that no evidence has come to our attention to evidence that assertion we have no reason to question our team” came the baffling reply. Perhaps seeing my dejection they tried to soften the blow for me.

“You can get married too”.
“I don’t want to get married!”
“Well, now you can. And you can even pawn your engagement presents”.
“Do what?!”
“If you don’t want to you don’t have to. We’re just saying you can if you want to”.
“But the others aren’t married themselves. They’re just masquerading as married to get benefits. I thought you got that”.

At this point the team of fair people all rose, held hands, and sang their chorus:

Show us evidence that they’re not married.
Show us the evidence.

(Repeat, ad infinitum)

With that ridiculous tune ringing in my ears I left the Fair building, dazed and confused, and determined to walk away to preserve my sanity. I hadn’t foreseen this part of the story and I planned to write myself out of it immediately.

And I really thought I’d made it, my normal ‘Truman Show meets the Big Lebowski’ life resuming, when I was approached by another giant, a gentle one this time, who also didn’t want to get married. She asked me to join her in an appeal. I politely declined, said she didn’t need me, that my part in this story was over.

Or so I thought. Weeks later I saw that this brave lady giant was taking the Fair Authority to an even Fairer Authority still and, more remarkably, the first Fair Authority was being defended by the original ’3 Goliaths’. This was truly horrible. It was like I’d summoned up the courage to shop the three biggest bullies in the school only to find the teacher I’d reported them to in bed with them.

This was a new and unexpected twist which I couldn’t ignore so I was back in, supported by a remarkable team of barristers and lawyers, all kindly assisting me without cost. Together we dredge through the legal detritus which has been building up all these years and for the first time in a while I’m feeling supported and optimistic.

But there’s also a nagging doubt in my mind. I’m writing and writing, crafting this entirely new chapter, but I can’t see where it’s going. I suspect I may be losing the plot.

As of now, I’m only just waking up to why I can’t win this case. No-one wants to see their teachers in the dock, defending themselves against the charge of ‘irrational and perverse’ behaviour.  If they’re defeated, then what? Do I have to go back to school and show them how they should do their job properly or do I risk them swanning off again with the bullies and coming back with something more absurd than they did in the first round?

I’m going to see this chapter through because I have to and I know that, whatever happens now, I can take comfort in the knowledge that there’s already a blockbuster movie here.

Even if it’s not likely to be the classic fairy tale of Good winning over Evil there’s more than enough material to play with here. This screen-play can blend the rational with the insane, fantasy with reality, feature a bit of glamour and a lot of pot. I’m picturing “Erin Brockovich meets Cheech and Chong”.

The case starts next Monday.

Open Letter to Gaucho Rasmussen, Enforcement Director at CMA

Dear Gaucho,

You’ll remember that earlier this year I applied for my barrister to receive a copy of the case the Office of Fair Trading (now CMA) took out against Expedia, and Intercontinental Hotels. The case, as set out in the CMA’s ‘Statement of Objections’, detailed the possible areas of anti-competitive behaviour of the above defendants.

On that occasion, access to the Statement of Objections was denied to Skoosh’s barrister on the basis that it wasn’t relevant. However, now that Skoosh is challenging the CMA’s decision with the Competition Appeal Tribunal I feel that document is more relevant than ever and I am uncomfortable knowing that I am the only person to have a copy.

Whilst I take your point that the original case is the CMA’s, with Skoosh merely the complainant, I also see it as a matter of public interest. To put it another way, the UK tax-payer paid for a case which it never saw, which was concluded to the open dismay of not just Skoosh but also by large sectors of the travel industry, and which threatens to fundamentally change the way UK travellers book hotel rooms.

Without any legal assistance I can’t know with any degree of certainty whether the Statement of Objections contains any material which would be relevant in the tribunal. The CMA’s repeat reminders that unauthorized disclosure is a criminal offence makes me wonder whether there is anything in there. That said, I don’t need reminding and I won’t illegally disclose it under any circumstances but I would like your approval to disclose the case to my barrister at the very least. If he decides it is irrelevant we can ignore it of course.

On that basis, would you please reconsider my application to disclose the Statement of Objections to my barrister.

Kind regards,

Dorian Harris

p.s. In the interests of transparency a copy of this email has been posted on my blog at

Closing Letter to the Office of Fair Trading

Hi Ingrid,

Thank you for taking the time last week to try and explain the proposal you have put forward on behalf of Expedia, and IHG.

I still don’t understand it I’m afraid. I don’t understand how you expect it to work practically and I don’t understand how it can possibly be seen as a measure to stop Expedia and further stifling the hotel industry.

I came to you saying that Expedia and are preventing my company, Skoosh, from offering discounted hotel rooms by intimidating my suppliers. I told you that they’re also preventing hotels from offering deals directly to guests. I told you that they’re deceiving the public into believing that they have the best prices themselves. And I told you that they’re buying price comparison sites so they can spy on their competitors and force them to raise their prices.

That your proposal doesn’t solve my concerns is not an issue. The problem now is that you’ve left people in a state of confusion. As a public body, paid for by the tax payer, you’re duty bound to put out clear messages both to industry and the consumer. You’ve done neither. I’ve got travel agents, hoteliers, journalists, economists and lawyers asking me to make sense of your proposal and I can’t of course because I have no idea what you’re trying to achieve.

I’ve also got lawyers urging me to take this to a judicial review or all the way to the European Court of Human Rights. I don’t intend to do either. As sceptical as I am about the arrangement you’ve come to with the defendants, and as much as I’d like to challenge the absurd lack of transparency in your organisation, for my part I just want to have the details out here on public record and leave anyone else to take it up as they see fit.

Kind regards,

Dorian Harris

Open Letter to Martin Couchman, Deputy Chief Executive of the British Hospitality Association

Dear Martin,

Further to our recent conversation, I understand that it is awkward for you to involve the British Hospitality Association in the ongoing price fixing investigation in the hotel industry because many of your members are unsure about their legal standing. I now feel that’s exactly why you need to step in.

As we all know, there’s an elephant in the corner of this industry the size of the Ritz. We exist in this grey legal area of fixed prices or ‘rate parity’, a practice that underpins all our individual businesses. Yet no-one knows if it is legal. In the meantime we can’t move forwards or backwards because we’re too scared we’ll either be punished by the authorities or our trading partners.  Apart from a couple of major players, this industry is stagnating.

I am also now in an uncomfortable position in that I am being asked to assist hotels in a case which I no longer even hold as my own.  One wrote to me:

“I am aware of the devastating effect some OTAs have on the industry…We need all the help we can get and you seem to know the problem well”.

However, the OFT is no longer representing my interests. I am not sure who they’re representing any more but I do know that the commitments in their recent proposal, if accepted, will affect every one of your members in one way or another.

To be clear I was never asking you to come down one way or another in your position on this. I was only proposing that your members were made fully aware of what’s at stake with the commitments in the OFT’s proposal.

As much as I want to help my colleagues in the industry it is time for others to take over. As the representative of the British Hotel Association I’m hoping you can manage the way out of this. It would be wonderful if Britain could take the lead in solving this global problem.

I have taken the liberty of copying in Gaucho who is heading up the investigation for the OFT. Also, in the interests of transparency, I have put a copy of this correspondence on my blog.

Kind regards,

Dorian Harris

Another Final Open Letter to Clive Maxwell, Executive Director Office of Fair Trading

Dear Mr. Maxwell,

Thank you again for taking the time to reply.

Whilst I understand that the OFT doesn’t necessarily agree with the complainant about the nature of the problem nor indeed the solution, I am afraid that’s not a satisfactory response in this case because the OFT clearly hasn’t understood the industry. The net result is that it hasn’t solved anyone’s problems bar the defendants.

Legal Uncertainty

To remind you, I run a UK business and I came to the OFT more than 3 years ago to explain that I am severely hampered because my competitors are forcing me to sell at the same prices as them. It transpired that it wasn’t just happening to me but many other UK travel agents and thousands of UK hotels.

All these businesses, including mine, operate in an area of legal uncertainty. Meanwhile our ability to trade is severely restricted by a small number of companies that are benefiting from the same area of legal uncertainty. All I wanted to know, and now what all these businesses want to know, is whether this practice is legal or not because we can’t move forward without this clarity. The OFT has always told me ‘no-one is saying this is legal’. Three and a half years later I still don’t know what that means.

Illusion of Improvements

What’s concerned me in this particular case is that the OFT has put forward a solution dictated by the defendants which not only doesn’t tally with my complaint but that also demonstrates such a distinct lack of understanding of the hotel industry as to make it baffling.

Take the fact that the discounts the OFT has accepted Expedia and proposes to make already exist in the market. ‘Closed groups’ are around already. My contention to the OFT was not that they didn’t exist but that they weren’t sufficient. Now the defendants have convinced your team that they’ve created something new. And, perversely, they’ve also offered an extra restriction on consumers accessing closed groups which benefits no-one but themselves.

Climate of Fear

So that’s one problem. Another was the OFT’s failure to understand the tensions in the travel industry. It doesn’t make sense to put out a public consultation in an industry that operates in a climate of fear and intimidation. That can’t be news to the OFT as I have sent it endless evidence to that effect, it’s everywhere on the internet, and publicized by Europe’s hotel association. For all that, it appears that the OFT doesn’t even offer much in the way of concrete security to those offering a response to the proposal and my guess would be that almost no-one has replied.

So there’s a proposal out there in the public domain which is almost unintelligible for all its flawed understanding of the industry. And it is awaiting a response from an industry that only endures the suffocating conditions because it is oppressed by the very defendants that have made this proposal.

Little faith in the OFT

Whether or not the OFT has responded to my complaint or the concerns of the industry is one thing. Perhaps the biggest worry about all this is the abject despondency of the UK consumers. They have precious little faith in your organization to protect them. Read any the comments on any of the huge number of articles written about the case and you’ll quickly see what I mean. Here’s a small selection from recent articles in the Sunday Times and Daily Mail:

– Hotels fix prices?  Get away!

– The OFT started investigation in 2010 and will report back soon. Has anyone told them its the latter part of 2013? It doesn’t take much thought to realize the OFT survives from public money and don’t know that the word efficiency means.

– that is truly shocking. think about it. its like your barrister colluding with the prosecution.

They’ve been told banks are too big to fail. And now they’re being told the travel companies are too big to fail. They didn’t accept the former and I think it’s even less likely they’ll accept the latter. Whilst I appreciate your replying to me it’s really the consumer that needs your response and I don’t think the commitments in the proposal even start to offer that.

Yours sincerely,

Dorian Harris

Final Open Letter to Clive Maxwell, Executive Director Office of Fair Trading

Dear Mr. Maxwell,

Thank you for kindly replying to my last open letter.

Since you wrote I have been petitioned by lawyers, economists, and high ranking officials in the travel industry to respond to your team’s proposal to ensure that it doesn’t get through unchallenged. However, I can’t find it in myself to respond or even attend one final meeting.

I had no experience of competition bureaus when I started my campaign three and a half years ago but I was aware of the enormity of the challenge I was making to the hotel industry. For various commercial and personal reasons I felt that I had to take this one on.

The backlash against Skoosh was inevitable and it nearly bankrupted us a company. My colleagues all stood by and supported me even though they knew their jobs would be compromised. In 2011 I had to take the painful decision to make most of them redundant.

Along with many other travel agents and thousands of hotels we continue to be bullied by Expedia and on a daily basis. I have no confidence any more that the OFT will resolve this issue but take comfort in the expectation that competition authorities across Europe and the U.S. will take decisive action against this abuse.

It is disappointing to see the OFT pandering to the specious concerns of the defendants. I see the OFT’s passive approach both as a direct cost to the consumer and, worse, a cost to society as it will give further confidence to big businesses looking to trample over their suppliers and competitors and even customers.

For all that I am now officially removing myself from the consultation process so I can return to my business and my life. I hope you can and will do whatever necessary to ensure the OFT’s case doesn’t undermine those of your European counterparts.

Yours sincerely,

Dorian Harris

Open Letter to Clive Maxwell, Executive Director Office of Fair Trading

Dear Clive,

I hope you don’t mind my writing to you publicly but I feel this is an issue of public and national importance.

Three years ago I complained to the Office of Fair Trading (O.F.T.) that my competitors (primarily Expedia and were routinely policing the internet for companies undercutting them and closing down their supply.

In a bold move, the O.F.T. started an investigation even though the other authorities I approached were hesitant. Since then though others have followed the O.F.T.’s lead and there are further investigations in France, Switzerland and Germany and 31 class actions in the U.S.

I was naturally both proud and comforted to be in a country with such a strong regulatory body and until recently I thought it was making substantial progress. Then, last week, their investigation took a bizarre turn. Somehow, the defendants in this cartel case have managed to persuade your team of investigators that they have some credible efficiency concerns which merit their having a degree of legal protection.

One of these concerns is to protect their investment in advertising. Can it be true that the consumer has to support the vast advertising expenditures made by these companies? I would have thought these costs only serve to inflate hotel prices.

Similarly these companies asked for protection to support their expenditure on customer service and technology. Whilst they both have decent sites I can’t equate their position in the market with the likes of Amazon or Apple. If they disappeared I’m confident the gap would be quickly filled.

A big gap numerically though. These companies asking for special treatment now have nearly 70% of the European market between them. They appear to have grown remarkably effectively without the assistance of the competition regulators.

I realise it’s not typical for you to get involved in current investigations but I urge you to make an exception here. It is damaging the credibility of the O.F.T. and all the other competition authorities around the world looking to challenge the defendants’ monopolisation of the hotel industry and inflation of hotel prices.

Yours sincerely,

Dorian Harris
Founder and Traveler

Open Letter to the U.K. Bargain Hunter

Dear Sir / Madam,

Over the last few years we have all stood on the sidelines as stories have emerged about big corporations fiddling the system to their advantage and to our cost. Well, now is your chance to speak out.

Three years ago the Office of Fair Trading (O.F.T.)  started investigating Skoosh’s complaint that consumers were being precluded by the biggest online travel agents from booking hotel deals.  To address these issues the O.F.T. put out a public consultation document last Friday asking all of us to comment on their new proposals for making access to hotel deals easier. We believe that the proposal will actually make it harder for you to find a hotel deal.

Below we have summarized the main points in the proposal and we have also listed some of the evidence of perceived wrongdoing we sent to the O.F.T. , including threats of violence and intimidation against us.

The O.F.T. has posted its proposal here. Unfortunately it is a 40-page document but much of the important information is near the beginning. The address to email your thoughts is or you can add a comment to this blog.

Best wishes and safe (affordable) travels,



A summary of the O.F.T.’s proposal

– Current Status (Hobson’s Choice), Expedia and Intercontinental Hotels (the three defendants) have signed agreements not to compete with each-other. So it doesn’t matter which one you book through you’ll see exactly the same price. They’ve also enforced this agreement across the whole industry so even if you book a room through us or another company it will still be the same price.

Currently, one way around this is to book through members-only sites where the prices are hidden until you enter an email address and a password.

– New Proposal  (Catch 22)

Under the new proposal you can still book a deal on a members-only site but only if you have previously made a booking through the site (the catch) which gives you better rates. Email and password or Facebook logins will no longer suffice as the discount website has to specifically invite the customer to access its discounted hotels.


The Evidence

This selection of evidence was submitted by Skoosh to the O.F.T.  over a period of 3 years.

Mr. Happy (Explicit lyrics) – Apr 2010

Ahead of our making a complaint we received this call from an irate hotelier clearly under pressure from to get his hotel removed from Skoosh or risk being delisted on

Kenzi Menara Palace (Aug 2010)

One of a vast number of hotels hassled by to remove its property from the Skoosh website.

Kayak Termination (Oct 2010)

Less than a month after the O.F.T. announced it was formally investigating Skoosh’s complaint our biggest commercial partner, the price comparison site Kayak, cut its ties with Skoosh.

Rate Parity Associate (March 2011)

Evidence that specifically employs people to police the internet. The practice still goes on today.

Marmara Hotel Budapest (July 2012) emails the hotel to notify them that Skoosh is selling below their (’s) price. recommend that the hotel makes a [fake] reservation on the Skoosh website to find out who Skoosh is buying from.

Best Western Sheldon Park (July 2012)

Despite Expedia’s application for leniency with the O.F.T. Skoosh provided evidence that Expedia was still hassling hotels with rate parity challenges across the water in Ireland.

Class Action against the hotel industry (Aug 2012)

The action claims Expedia and among others “conspired” with hotel chains to create a scheme that would “fix the retail price for room reservations” and therefore impact competition in the marketplace for other intermediaries.

Rate Parity Dilemma (Sep 2012)

The industry speaks out. Swiss hotel school says that rate parity is now the biggest dilemma facing hoteliers. Reveal their true face (Oct 2012)

A report by an industry commentator (unconnected to Skoosh) explaining the predatory nature of

Holiday Inn Reading (Nov 2012)

The hotel tells Skoosh that they have been fined by their franchisor, I.H.G., for allowing discounted rates to be made available to the public.

Scandinaviation Hotels break off from Expedia (Dec 2012)

Some signs of progress. We hoped this would demonstrate to the O.F.T. just how widespread this price-fixing practice extends.

Swiss Competition Office (Dec 2012)

The case widens further. Switzerland’s Competition Commission stated it suspects that Expedia’s and’s best-rate guarantees — Bestpreisgarantien — with hotels, could “constitute illegal restraints.”

Objection to Expedia’s purchase of prices comparison site Trivago (Jan 2013)

Skoosh voiced its concerned that were Expedia allowed to buy a price comparison site it would further shore up its dominant market position. The acquisition went through.

Objection to Priceline’s Acquisition of Kayak (March 2013)

Skoosh objects to Priceline (’s parent company) buying Kayak, the only major price comparison site in the U.S. and one which is looking to move into Europe. The acquisition went through.

French Hotels take on Expedia and (July 2013)

France’s biggest hotel employer’s union, UMIH, argues that the main online travel agents including and Expedia are breaking French and European competition rules by forcing hotels to give them their lowest rates, and then barring them from offering discounted rates elsewhere, including on the hotels’ own websites.