UK hotel site Skoosh is attempting to draw Priceline-owned brand Booking.com into a bitter and very open fight over room rate policy.
In a series of articles on the Skoosh company blog, director Dorian Harris has accused Booking.com of asking hoteliers that partner with both companies to raise rates to those of Booking.com.
In some circles this is called a rate parity strategy, others give it a far more inflammatory term for a practice that some regulators are well known to frown on: price fixing.
Harris claims other large hotel sites in the same vein as Booking.com have also carried out similar tactics.
In an open letter to Booking.com CEO Kees Koolen, Harris writes:
"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."
Faced, inevitably, with absolute silence from Koolen, Harris wrote a second open letter to general counsel and managing director at Booking.com in the Netherlands, Rutger Prakke.
Reiterating the accusations and questioning the logic around such activity, Harris went on:
"I’m not judge and jury here. I’m concerned for my business, my industry and ecommerce as a whole. If rate parity is allowed to take hold, I see a time where there is absolutely no discounting online at all. It doesn’t matter where anyone goes to shop for a product, the price will be the same. As I’ve said elsewhere, that all sounds very Cold War to me."
Harris says he is in dialogue with the UK's Office of Fair Trading over the issue and is getting regular updates as to the progress of an investigation into his claims.
Priceline is not adding any further comment at this stage, directing only to a statement Prakke recently gave to the Sunday Times:
“We are not aware of infringing any law and we have not been advised by any regulatory authority that rate parity constitutes anticompetitive behaviour. It’s a free world and hotels can sign up or sign off with us as they wish.”
This is not the first time Harris has chosen to grind his axe publicly, publishing the contents of an email to PR agency Siren in late-August 2010 over another disagreement.
Harris says the reason for issuing open letters to the likes of Booking.com is in the hope that it will "spark a public debate" over the wider issue of comparison and transparency of prices.