Trivago TV ads in hot water

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BANGKOK, 10 September 2018: A leading hotel booking website, Trivago, is facing a federal court case in Australia over alleged misrepresentation and misleading TV campaigns.

The suit is being filed by the zealous Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, but it has wider ramification as the Expedia owned hotel website aggregator enjoys a global presence and aggressively reaches out to travel consumers through global TV advertisements.

The accusation is as old as the hills. Trivago claims it offers the consumers the lowest and best bargains imaginably, but flagged hotel deals are in fact the system’s best customers who pay the highest click through fees. This gives them a priority positioning on the site.

ACC is assuming that consumers are taken in by the practice of pushing your best paying customers up the ranks to gain prominence and gain click through business.

Consumer protection agencies are there to look after our best interests, but you have to wonder why this one picked on Trivago when the practice of pushing advertisers up the ladder is widespread across all booking websites in one way or another.

ACC responds to consumer complaints, but how many of them are genuine complaints or just sour grapes over Trivago gaining too much traction through its TV campaigns?  It wouldn’t take much of an investigation to find similar examples of websites looking after their content suppliers at the expense of consumers.

I could name a dozen or more examples of B2B booking websites and even prominent global distribution systems that promote their priority airline customers to top-of-page on the booking screen. Everyone recognises they paid their way to the top.

The case will go to Australia’s federal court and Trivago will fight it tooth and nail. Perhaps, ACC might have to explain why it is trying to make an example of one system while the rest are off the hook?  Is Trivago a scapegoat? Or is there a genuine breach of consumer care?

At worst, Trivago could be accused of being over enthusiastic in its advertising claims, but we recognise that when we watch TV ads.  Sure, Trivago might tell us that it has the lowest deals, but we are savvy enough not to believe everything a website highlights in flashing red lights or calls a “hot deal.”

ACC accuses the website of a beach of consumer laws for claiming to be an impartial and a objective price comparison site, while in reality it prioritises products that pay the highest click-through fee.

Trivago will probably have to refine its TV campaigns in Australia, but I noticed that it runs an almost identical campaign in Thailand and other Asian nations without any fuss.

It’s also a common practice for hotel booking websites to tell us that the rate they are quoting has been discounted by a whopping 50 to 70%, without saying how they arrived at the arithmetic.

Consumers are bombarded daily with promotions and advertising dressed up as objective impartial news or reviews. Facebook is full of them and most are not worth a second’s consideration.

The line has long since blurred between reality and ruse in the travel booking space. Who knows what how the Trivago court determination will pan out, but I hazard a guess that ultimately it will be much ado about nothing. Perhaps a rap on the knuckles and an order to improve the smallprint to identify paid promotions.

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