Soon after I started my campaign against rate parity, which my school friend and industry colleague Pete calls my cause célèbre (I prefer ‘obsession du jour’ but we were both in bottom set French so don’t quote either of us) I realised that ‘resale price maintenance’, the correct terminology, just wasn’t attractive so I switched over to the sexier and more media friendly ‘price fixing’.
That certainly got the attention of the press but riled some people in the hotel industry and sparked some direct personal confrontations. An industry ‘expert’ Tweeted me (directly, not publicly) to say: feel sorry for you that you have to bother the whole world with your companies challenges… never seen such a paranoid person in my life…
You could argue that his inclusion of so many full stops was rather decadent in the world of the micro blog but it did make it all the more engaging I felt. It also made me wonder what he would have written if he’d had more than 140 characters in his arsenal. Perhaps he would have taken me out with some well aimed bullet points.
In the meantime I’ve been getting a lot of support for my paranoid campaign. The Telegraph picked up on the fact that the Office of Fair Trading had raised the stakes to an ‘administrative priority’ (those are stark words in official circles) and sent a top journalist, Holly Watt, to interview me.
I looked Holly up before she visited and saw that she’s a rising star in the world of journalism not least of all because of her involvement in the expose of the MPs’ expense claims. So I knew the Telegraph saw something big in this story.
Holly was hungover on the day yet surprisingly sharp and she finished most of my sentences for me. I liked that. I can’t exactly remember what we discussed but I sent her a barrage of emails following up on the meeting asking her to pitch the story as a changing competition law per se or something equally esoteric. She ignored me I’m pleased to say.
That story does exist but it’s best kept to the Global Competition Review or some such nerdy publication (I hope that didn’t cost me my free subscription!) and Holly went instead with the consumer angle. Again, I can’t remember the details but it was front page news with the headline ‘Hotels face enquiry in price-fixing scandal’. By the time I’d bought my copy at 7am there were already more than 180 irate comments on the Telegraph’s website opening up the discussion which is as much as I could have ever hoped for. I don’t know how these things work but I hope Holly gets a bonus for her efforts. Or at least some Aspirin.
The Daily Mail also picked up on the story from the Telegraph and it went from there across the Web. It mutated somewhat and the story became that three hotel chains in particular were being investigated by the O.F.T. That was sloppy journalism but it did reveal some interesting sentiments from the chains themselves. Most notable was Radisson Edwardian which put out the following public statement:
“We are not involved in any collusion with any organization to set a price on room rates for any of our hotels and go to great lengths to ensure that there consistency across all booking channels for our clients.”
How they didn’t realise that they’d just spelt out the dictionary definition of anti-competitive behaviour I do not know. But they’re not alone and there exists a strident defence of rate parity in some quarters. And not just from nitwits I must say. Some people have forwarded reasonably erudite if flawed arguments.
Oh, and the BBC came for a television interview. It turns out their producers can’t get enough of my pensive look. I confess I’ve been practising it more or less daily since I was last on the telly and I think I’ve pretty much nailed it. I got the chance to show it off with Brighton’s seafront and the old pier as my backdrop. And I tucked my shirt in this time. Mum would have been proud.
Media-wise the story seems to have taken on a life of its own and I no longer have to contact the press. If I’d been really savvy I would have arranged a fly on the wall documentary of the whole thing. You’d have got to see Gina wading through her fifth bowl of chocolate covered Cheerios at her desk and the Mark’s failed attempts to grow the office Bonsai. It’s really that exciting at Skoosh HQ. Next time.
The case goes on.