* OFT says deals infringe competition law
* Focus on InterContinental, Booking.com and Expedia
* Companies have three months to respond
* InterContinental shares down 1.1 percent
LONDON, July 31 Britain's consumer watchdog has
objected to deals struck between InterContinental Hotels Group
and online travel agents Booking.com and
Expedia, saying that they restrict online agents'
ability to discount hotel room rates.
The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) said that its provisional
view was that Booking.com, Expedia and InterContinental had
infringed competition law and that its investigation may have
wider implications because the alleged practices were
The regulator alleged on Tuesday that deals between the
world's biggest hotelier, InterContinental, and the two online
players restricted the freedom of online agents to discount
prices for hotel rooms.
This came as part of an OFT investigation started in
September 2010 after a complaint by a small online agent, which
claimed that it was prevented by various hotel chains from
offering discounted prices for room-only accommodation.
"We want people to benefit fully from being able to shop
around online and get a better deal from discounters that are
prepared to share their commission with customers," OFT Chief
Executive Clive Maxwell said in a statement.
"The OFT's provisional view is that Booking.com, Expedia and
InterContinental Hotels Group have infringed competition law,"
Britain's InterContinental countered that it considered its
arrangements with the online booking agents to be compliant with
competition laws and consistent with the long-standing approach
of the global hotel industry. It said that it is cooperating
fully with the OFT's investigation.
The group, which runs more than 4,500 hotels across the
world under brands such as Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza as well
as InterContinental, emphasised that these were only provisional
findings and added that it had commercial arrangements with more
than 200 online agents across the world.
The OFT said all parties now have three months to respond
before it decides whether competition law has been infringed.
InterContinental shares were down 1.1 percent at 1,580 pence
by 0815 GMT in a largely flat UK stock market.