The travel executive who triggered the long-running investigation into alleged bullying by major online travel agencies over hotel pricing is giving up his fight.
Skoosh director Dorian Harris says he is removing himself from the ongoing consultation process so he can "return to my business and my life", after almost seeing his company go bankrupt as a result of his very public campaigning.
The saga started four years ago when Harris complained to the UK's business watchdog, The Office of Fair Trading, regarding what he claimed were breaches of competition law as a result of Booking.com and Expedia putting pressure on hotels to stop smaller online travel agencies from varying their prices.
Although some believed campaigners had earned victory of sorts in August this year when the OFT announced that both OTAs had pledged to adhere to new guidelines whereby other agencies would be allowed to offer reductions, Harris was left disillusioned by the process and what he claimed was "special treatment" for both Booking.com and Expedia.
As a result, four years on and with a number of similar investigations and lawsuits taking place around the world since he brought the issue to light, Harris is turning away from the issue.
In a final open letter to Clive Maxwell, executive director of the OFT, Harris writes:
Since you wrote I have been petitioned by lawyers, economists, and high ranking officials in the travel industry to respond to your team’s proposal to ensure that it doesn’t get through unchallenged. However, I can’t find it in myself to respond or even attend one final meeting.
I had no experience of competition bureaus when I started my campaign three and a half years ago but I was aware of the enormity of the challenge I was making to the hotel industry. For various commercial and personal reasons I felt that I had to take this one on.
The backlash against Skoosh was inevitable and it nearly bankrupted us a company. My colleagues all stood by and supported me even though they knew their jobs would be compromised. In 2011 I had to take the painful decision to make most of them redundant.
Along with many other travel agents and thousands of hotels we continue to be bullied by Expedia and Booking.com on a daily basis. I have no confidence any more that the OFT will resolve this issue but take comfort in the expectation that competition authorities across Europe and the U.S. will take decisive action against this abuse.
It is disappointing to see the OFT pandering to the specious concerns of the defendants. I see the OFT’s passive approach both as a direct cost to the consumer and, worse, a cost to society as it will give further confidence to big businesses looking to trample over their suppliers and competitors and even customers.
For all that I am now officially removing myself from the consultation process so I can return to my business and my life. I hope you can and will do whatever necessary to ensure the OFT’s case doesn’t undermine those of your European counterparts.
Typically, Harris is not going away without a final poke in the eye of the industry and regulators, having created a website to illustrate what he claims is the costing the traveller in lost discounts every day.
Not sure what the original FairSearch anti-Google lobbying group will say about it though...