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 Booking.com) 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

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