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UK regulator gathering evidence in online hotel prices probe

The UK antitrust regulator said it is collecting evidence in its probe of alleged price fixing by Expedia Inc, Priceline.com Inc and other companies in the online hotel booking industry.

Britain's Office of Fair Trading (OFT) opened the investigation in September after UK internet travel firm Skoosh.com claimed the companies fix prices for hotel rooms by blocking cheaper offers from online wholesalers.

"After a preliminary review of the evidence gathered to date, the OFT continues to consider this matter as an administrative priority and is pursuing the investigation further," the regulator said on its website on April 4.

The regulator's price-fixing fines in the construction and recruiting industries are being slashed by as much as 80pc by a UK appeals court.


Additional rulings on those appeals are scheduled for this month and the UK government is considering merging the regulator with another agency to improve efficiency.

The hotel booking probe began after Skoosh founder Dorian Harris approached the OFT with claims that his company, and other indirect wholesalers, were being shut out despite offering rates as much as 40pc cheaper than the hotel's own price.

"The hotel industry itself seems to be lagging behind the law," Harris said yesterday. "Skoosh still gets daily demands from hotels insisting that we sell at a particular rate."

A UK-based spokeswoman for Bellevue, Washington-based Expedia declined to immediately comment when reached yesterday by phone. Priceline spokesman Brian Ek in Norwalk, Connecticut, didn't immediately return a call before normal business hours. (Bloomberg)

Irish Independent