As the microscope focuses on supposed breaches of competition law around hotel bookings, a further illustration both the extent and confusion around the issue.
The UK's Office of Fair Trading, a government regulatory body which examines business practice and its effect on consumers and industry, is currently investigating complaints triggered in part by hotel booking firm Skoosh in September 2010 over hotel room pricing on travel websites.
British newspaper The Daily Telegraph named three major hotel groups last weekend as being involved (though not confirmed) in the OFT's investigation - a probe which is looking to establish whether a breach of both UK and European competition law has taken place when hoteliers have asked hotel distributors to charge the same price across websites.
"Rate parity" is frowned upon by many as it restricts the ability to differentiate a product based on price. Others simply call it "price fixing".
A series of emails obtained by Tnooz have now shed further light on the issue, with some hoteliers confused about where they stand on the law and others seemingly just trying to protect their relationship large online travel agency partners.
Here, one Florida-based hotelier acknowledges that "rate parity" is far more prevalent in the US than in Europe, when asked to explain why the distributor is being told to set a room rate:
"...if we do not maintain parity with all, we are threatened with poor placement on sites and worst case removal of hotel from sales sites. That is the way the OTAs operate in [the] USA.
"[Company A] threatens [us] if [Company B] gets lower rates and vice-versa. It is a vicious cycle if we pull out of parity. I think the model in Europe is built to operate more competitively but that is not the model here (much as I wish it was the same in Europe!)."
Another exchange illustrates the issue further, this time between a Spanish hotel and fellow European distributor (starting with a message from the hotelier).
"Dear partner, we would appreciate information on where to get the sales prices they [you] post as there were incorrect. As you can see, are selling cheaper than our own website for what they are in breach of obligation to price parity."
"Just to understand, do you want everyone to fix the prices and sell your hotel at exactly the same rate?"
"Yes I do. But in order to get it I would need to know from where are you taken prices in order to request them to fix their prices. Could you help me please?"
The pair then discuss the ongoing OFT investigation, with the distributor warning the hotelier that regulators are investigating such practices. The exchange continues:
"If you choose to break the law that's of course entirely your decision. We will not assist in this matter."
"My apologize but i dont understand what do you mean by 'breaking the law'. What it is suppose that I have done? It is not me who is breaking the rate parity."
"Price fixing is illegal. 'Rate parity' may well be part of the hotel industry but that doesn't make it legal and, as I have explained, it is now being investigated by the authorities. Many hotel chains have been approached already. I strongly suggest you seek legal advice before proceeding any further but, again, that's entirely your decision."
"Thanks very much for your help but I am lost. Fix pricing is illegal? I mean, to have rate parity is illegal? It is the first time I listen that."
The OFT says it is proceeding with the investigation as a matter of urgency, though it told the Telegraph that the probe is still at an early stage. It is still unclear as to the scope of the investigation given the international dimensions involved between consumers, distributors, agencies and hotels.