Netherlands-based travel lodging reservation site Booking.com was fined to HUF 2.5 billion (€7 million) by Hungary’s competition watchdog GHV after a years-long investigation.
GVH began an investigation into the business practices of Booking.com in 2018, after being prompted by consumers that it falsely advertised free cancellation of bookings and was applying an “aggressive marketing strategy” by displaying red warning signs about alleged limited availability of free lodgings even when it was not the case.
“In its television and internet advertising, the company prominently highlighted its ‘free cancellation’ policy… whereas free cancellation was only available to customers for a limited time period and free cancellation reservations also came at a higher price, thus the price of the ‘free cancellation” was already built in,” the watchdog said in a press release about the decision.
By displaying the number of other people looking for similar offers on its website and showing the decreasing number of availabilities in large and contrasting color fonts, the company used “a practice that was leading to psychological pressure and interfered with customers’ decision-making process,” GVH said.
The watchdog added that the size of the fine was commensurate with the company’s revenues derived from the Hungarian market and the ruling also forbids the company to continue the above-mentioned practices.
Last year, Booking.com had a net profit of $4.865 billion on revenues of $15.066 billion. The size of its revenues from Hungary was not disclosed.
Title image: Booking.com headquarters in Amsterdam.