Editor’s viewpoint: Parasites or good value?

Man using computer and phone 

By Good Hotel Guide editor Adam Raphael

`Third party agents are the parasites of the industry…online commissions are outrageous……..they are a leech on the viability of B&Bs and smaller operators….they are deceptive and inflate prices….I am appalled at the way this industry is going.’

Last month’s newsletter about the increasing dependency of hotels on online commission agents provoked a lively debate. 

The Daily Mail headed a follow-up article: ‘Hotel guests are being fleeced’, quoting hoteliers saying that commission payments, as high as 25%, ripped off families and forced prices up.

The British Hospitality Association said that online agents’ insistence that their rates must not be undercut by hotels meant higher prices and less possibility for customers to negotiate a better deal. The UK B&B Association branded the biggest online agent, Booking.com, ‘a bully’.

So much so bad, but not everyone thinks that using an online booking site is a bad way to reserve a hotel room.

Walter Stroebe, a long-time Guide reader from Germany, points out that the ability to reserve, cancel or change rooms without any penalty at short notice on a single website is useful. Nor is it just business travellers who find third party agents of use.

Romney House Hotel 

Romney Bay House, Kent, which won one of the Guide’s coveted César awards in 2012, says that it finds Booking.com of great help in selling empty rooms at short notice.

Its owners, Clinton and Lisa Lovell, say: ‘Rather than paying huge advertising sums to publications such as Johansens, Signpost, and Alastair Sawday (£4,000 in total annually), as we once did with no guarantee of generating any reservations, we now pay the 15% commission.’

It is undeniable that online booking agents, with their marketing muscle, fulfil a useful function. 

Foreign tourists with only a limited command of English prefer to book in a language they understand. And business travellers can get an assured reservation with just a few clicks, which can then be cancelled or changed at short notice without charge. For hotels, a third party agent gives access to a world-wide audience.

That said, the Guide still firmly believes that it is in the interests of its readers and most other guests to book directly with hotels.

Negotiating directly means that you will often get a better deal and can specify the type of room you prefer. Third party customers get few privileges, and are invariably allotted the worst rooms.

We also dislike the deceptiveness of third party agents whose online advertising appears to be that of the hotel. They dominate search engine results, and then state that there are no rooms available at a particular hotel, when all they are in fact saying is that no rooms are available for sale on a commission basis.

If the Guide feels so strongly about commission payments, why, you may ask, do some of the European hotels on the GHG website link to Booking.com?

The answer is this. We would prefer for all our selected hotels to have a direct relationship with us. But we have found that the only way we can finance our expanding selection of European hotels is to give the hotels a choice, either to pay us a small annual web fee or be linked to an online agent.

It is not an ideal business model, but it works and we now have a thriving selection of hotels in Europe and the Caribbean on the GHG website.

Hotel in Amsterdam

Recently we have added hotels in many European cities. See: Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Vienna, Lisbon, Berlin, Prague, Florence, Madrid, Paris, Rome. We have also a great selection of hotels in popular holiday areas in France: Dordogne, The Loire, Brittany and Provence.

Over the next few months, we plan to put up on the GHG website 500 recommended hotels in France, Spain, Italy, Germany and other European countries.Since we stopped publishing our European print edition ten years ago, there has been a dearth of reliable information about European hotels.

We believe that our new Continental European section fills a gap. Indeed many of our readers have continued to use the last GHG 2005 edition, out-of-date though it is.

For our new European venture to work, we need the support of our selected hotels and lots of reports from readers. Please help us develop our new website. The more reports we get the more reliable our recommendations will be.

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