Open Letter to Kees Koolen, CEO at Booking.com

Hi Kees,

Both personally, and even as a direct competitor, I was always a fan of Booking.com. Yours was one of the better hotel booking sites I always thought, with some innovative features. However, my rosy picture fast disappeared last winter when Skoosh started being pursued by your business partners insisting that we raise our hotel prices to the same as yours. I’m hoping you can find the time to address some of the points below and restore my faith in your company.

Some background then. Earlier this year we started getting some calls from angry and confused hoteliers insisting that we were selling their rooms too cheaply. I called them back to work out what was going on and they mostly told me that Booking.com had been on to them threatening all sorts of nonsense if they didn’t either remove their hotels from Skoosh or force Skoosh to raise its prices.

I wondered how this was all happening so quickly and then I did a little research and found that Booking.com has an active policy of maintaining the same prices for all companies across the internet. I even found a job ad of yours looking for ‘Rate Parity Associates’. It seems like you’ve got a whole team out there beavering away to ‘find any rate inconsistencies between Booking.com and their competitors.’ They’re doing a good job I have to say. The hoteliers you work with are certainly concerned. One wrote to ask me to close out their hotel on Skoosh:

‘just to avoid the penalty that [Booking.com] is threatening us about’.

Some were less friendly. Many of the hoteliers wrote letters to me threatening legal action. One of them had a colleague of yours on one line and me on the other. It seemed that your colleague was insisting that if we hadn’t removed their hotel from Skoosh by the end of the phone call Booking.com would cancel the contract with them. They were very scared.

I wasn’t so much concerned as confused. I know that companies can do pretty much what they like with their buying prices but the rules around selling prices are quite tight. I’m no lawyer but I did some reading here and there, went to the odd conference on competition law and spoke to a few competition lawyers. They warned me to be very careful because if Skoosh is seen to be involved in price fixing we could be liable for a huge fine (10% of our worldwide turnover – I didn’t fancy that!).

So I took all this to various competition bureaus: The European Commission, the Office of Fair Trading here in London, and your own Netherlands Competition Authority. They were all confused as to why it’s in Booking.com’s interest to ensure that all companies are selling hotels at the same price. On the face of it, it looks like competition is being taken out of the market and it’s making the hotel booking industry rather flat and dull.

I’m sure you have got good reasons for all this so I thought rather than puzzle away myself or wait for my case to reach the top of the pile at the competition bureaus, I could just ask you directly. I realise you may not want to comment directly on my blog but you can  email me through my website or call if you prefer. Of course you’re not obliged to reply to me or say anything but, as a one-time fan of Booking.com I’d very much like this matter cleared up so I can go on recommending your site to friends and family.

Cheers,

Dorian Harris
Director, Skoosh.com

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8 Responses to “Open Letter to Kees Koolen, CEO at Booking.com”

  1. Hi Dorian,

    Nice letter to Kees. I enjoyed reading it!

    If I am reading between the lines, you are assuming that you are much cheaper than your competitors in general and specific Booking.com.

    I did however a comparison between Booking.com, Skoosh and our own Gateway Hotel Booking Engine (exclusively for B2B). Just 1 night, 2 people to Bangkok on the first date in March next year. The engine of Skoosh was working great, usability was good, but it did not gave me the rates I expected. I mean they were okay, but not cheaper than your competitors.

    I know it is not a full base comparison and may your excange rate (I compared in €) effects the outcome, but it is just not what I expected after reading your letter…. Or Booking.com is doing a good job by sending their hoteliers to your door.

    It is good that you position Skoosh right next to booking.com, but promise us, when you are as big as them, don’t send your hoteliers to your competitors asking to raise the rates :)

    Regards,
    Rob van Kesteren
    Sales Manager Gateway South Africa

  2. Dorian says:

    Hi Rob,

    Thank you for taking the time to write.

    I’m not assuming Skoosh is cheaper – I’m saying that it should be.

    Booking.com is an agent of the hotel, offering their customers an alternative to booking direct at the hotel with more or less the same booking conditions (notably, customers pay at the hotel). The hotel itself determines the selling price and pays Booking.com a commission.

    Skoosh buys from wholesalers and sells as a principal rather than agent. We offer our customers lower rates than booking direct at the hotel but stricter conditions such as (typically) a 72 hour cancellation deadline and we require upfront payment at the time of booking. Plus we have to factor in risk such as online fraud for which we take the hit. Under this model, we should be able to offer lower rates. It’s normal business practise.

    When the wholesale model is dead, I’ll be long gone myself. However, unless I’ve missed something crucial, it’s very much alive, if to the chagrin of some of my competitors.

    As far as Skoosh abusing its market position when we’re in the position to – as long as I’m at the helm that will never happen. Apart from anything else, after 10 years working alongside their self-righteous director, my loyal colleagues would rightly lynch me.

    Cheers,

    Dorian

  3. Arabiz says:

    Hi Dorian,

    Thanks for your great site, which I just discovered and planning to book a room from it (hope soon people can say: skoosh a room), coz I found it cheaper than other sites!!

    Thank you again for being strong against business incs like Booking.com. Some corps dont care about fair trade as the money is their only goal, regardless (the way) of how they can make money.

    I’m from Saudi Arabia, and I will recommend Skoosh.com for my family and friends, to take advantage of it’s great deals. I like your site coz it’s very clear and showing the rate + fees and tax! Other sites wasting our time trying to fool us with their showing low prices and after you plan your stay, they showing their high prices.

    We all support you to keep fair trade in this business. I’m sure you will have many travelers from Saudi Arabia booking using skoosh.com.

    Arabiz,

  4. […] our list," said Dorian Harris from Skoosh. Open letter to Booking.com from Skoosh's CEO: http://dorian.skoosh.com/?p=133 I wondered how this was all happening so quickly and then I did a little research and found […]

  5. Hermans says:

    Hi Dorian,

    For your information: my recent experience

    As a frequent “booking.com” user I had also some faith in their service, until I found out that you can be misleaded during a booking operation. Recently I booeked a nice room with view on the see at a promotion price.
    It was correctly mentioned on the first page of the hotel booking.
    Finally came out (after some screens and the confirmation) that I booked a standard room at the backside of the Hotel.
    My claim at the hotel front desk resulted after two night that I received a room with sea view, with-out extra charge. I did not accepted an extra charge as proposed by the hotel management and by Booking.com.

    I do not blaim the Hotel personnel, nor the Booking helpdesk people, as I assume they are not awae of what happens. I really want to warn Booking.com users! You need to verify your booking transaction at each step!!!!!
    My faith and confidence in booking.com decreased.
    The booking email reaction on my email claim was very very poor and cheap and cannot even be used to safity a child.

    regards,
    F Hermans

  6. Dorian says:

    Dear Mr/Ms Hermans,

    Thank you for sharing your experience of Booking.com here.

    I have also used their site on a number of occasions to book rooms for myself and I’ve found their prices and service to be good. I’m sorry to hear that you had a poor experience last time.

    If you want to take this further I suggest you either post a comment on their Twitter account or their Facebook page. As you say, you’re protecting other potential customers from the same experience and either of those or Tripadvisor are the most public places to make others aware. Apart from anything else, it may help Booking.com fix a potential bug or just make things clearer.

    Cheers,

    Dorian

  7. Guido says:

    I actually just got threatend by a booking.com manager over a personal matter from the past. She would send the booking.com lawyers to me if I didn’t stop asking for what belongs to me and promosid by her in about a 100 different messages.

    For the rest booking.com is a hotelsite I use all the time. Their are simple in use and can’t be bothered to try another site. But a few competetors on the web would be good.

    Cheers,

  8. Rachel says:

    As someone with just an apartment they are trying to rent out, Booking.com is truly awful. Terrible system, terrible customer service. Take no responsibility when it is their operators that cause mistakes in listings. Then threaten legal action when you tell them that a booking is a scam or the client does not turn up and so no commission should be due. I would stay away from this company.

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