The Hungarian Bureau of Competition (GVH) found it necessary to request an expedited investigation against the Dutch Booking.com accommodation portal regarding their undergoing debt case toward the Hungarian accommodation providers. At the same time the Hungarian Tourism Agency (MTÜ) offered legal aid to the ones affected in the matter – according to the meeting held last Tuesday by the Tourism Subcommittee of the Hungarian National Economic Committee.
The subcommittee examined what steps are needed to be taken in the future to prevent large corporations from abusing their advantage and accumulating HUF billions in debt.
According to Kristóf Szatmáry, the chairman of the meeting, it is not true that the service provider has settled all its debts to the Hungarian accommodation providers. (We can confirm this on behalf of Spabook. We encountered several complaints even these days, despite the fact that the majority of them – albeit with a considerable delay – actually received their money. – the editor.)
“It turned out that not all companies received their compensation. The present “pressure” case will not be closed until all companies get their money” – he added after the meeting. “All proposed changes to the legislation will be examined so that such violations do not occur again in the future. If the payments are not made by the beginning of next week, the measures will be continued, perhaps another committee meeting will be held” – said Kristóf Szatmáry.
The politician questioned why Booking.com timed its IT transition for the summer season, which they cited as the reason for their non-payment. He also called it questionable how a company of similar size could operate without substantial Hungarian customer service.
Balázs Csaba Rigó, the president of the GVH, informed that preparations for the expedited investigation in the case of Booking.com are underway, and it could start this month.
“The examination period is a maximum of 30 days, which can be extended. The results of the investigation will include concrete proposals” – he said.
According to the information of the president of the GVH, possible market distortions can be checked in the investigation and commission payment practices may also be investigated to see “If the company abused its advantages. In the case of an expedited investigation, the authorities can make a proposal to the legislator or to the affected service providers” – he indicated.
He mentioned: “The GVH imposed the largest ever fine of 2.5 billion HUF on the operator of Booking.com in 2020, and prohibited the Dutch company from pursuing aggressive sales methods. The decision of the Bureau of Competition was justified by the fact that Booking.com B.V. engaged in unfair commercial practices towards customers, including deceptively advertising some of its accommodations with the option of free cancellation, as well as aggressive, psychological pressure to make a reservation as soon as possible.”
Anikó Suhajda-Molnár, Deputy CEO of the Hungarian Tourism Agency (MTÜ), reported that a questionnaire was sent to the 40,000 accommodation providers in the National Tourist Data Center (NTAK) about the matter and 16 percent of them started filling it out by August 14. So far, it has been filled out by the operators of private and other accommodation facilities, who are affected in the case.
“According to 45 percent of the respondents, the company constantly changes the payment deadlines and 26 percent did not receive any information about the existing problem. The hotels are experiencing an operational error since more than a month and Booking.com owes almost 700 accommodation providers more than 1 million HUF”– explained Anikó Suhajda-Molnár, Deputy CEO of the Hungarian Tourism Agency (MTÜ)
The Hungarian Tourism Agency reached out to 3 employees of Booking.com about the problem and according to the momentary information of the regional director, the accommodation providers would be paid by August 15. Anikó Suhajda-Molnár called it unacceptable that Hungarian accommodation providers are put in such a situation during the peak of high season.
Starting August 9th, a legal aid service was introduced for the affected businesses and after the MTÜ’s action, some of the accommodation providers received their payments.
Judit Perneki the MTÜ’s legal representative reported that they had also contacted the affected businesses by phone. The MTÜ requested the businesses to file their relevant documents to the Hungarian Tourism Agency. The MTÜ also examined whether it is possible to file a lawsuit against the company due to the disadvantageous situation that has developed in Hungary. However, in their contracts, their services like accommodations, flights or attractions are guided by Dutch law and services like car rental and private/public passenger transportation are guided by English law.
If the measures taken so far do not lead to results, the Ministry of Justice will be involved in the investigation of Booking.com terms and conditions.
Judit Perneki said that Booking.com refuses interest claims. Balázs Csaba Rigó added that non-payment could result in a civil lawsuit, where the Dutch company would have to prove the IT problem. However, this requires significant resources and can produce slow results. “The attention of the Hungarian Bureau of Competition is continuously on the online accommodation platforms” – indicated the president of the GVH.