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 Booking.com 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
Skoosh

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