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TOURISM

French hotels win price war against Booking.com

Hotel reservation website Booking.com has agreed to allow hoteliers in France to charge cheaper Internet prices after a spate of legal challenges, the French competition authority said Tuesday.

French hotels win price war against Booking.com

Up to now, Booking.com has prevented hotels who use its service from charging cheaper rates on alternative sites, or to customers who book in person or by phone.

That was overturned following negotiations between Booking.com and officials from France, Italy and Sweden, prompted by legal complaints from hotel trade associations.

However, hotels that use Booking.com will still be barred from charging cheaper prices on their own website, except for customers with loyalty cards.

The changes to the rules — known as "parity clauses" — are due to come into force on July 1.

"We think we have found a satisfactory balance, with a win-win agreement," said Bruno Lasserre, president of the French competition commission.

However a spokesman for top French hotel trade association UMIH said the deal still did not go far enough.

"We have achieved an important step, but it does not resolve everything," said Herve Becam, vice-president of French trade association UMIH.

"We are not fully satisfied. There is still much work to do since we want an end to all parity clauses," he said.

Another French trade association, GNI, said Booking.com had threatened to downgrade hotels that did not match its pricing rules.

"This decision is presented as if hoteliers have regained their commercial and pricing freedom — that's not the case at all," said GNI president Didier Chenet.

"The ability of hoteliers to protect their brand on the web has been shamelessly hijacked by Booking.com."

The French trade associations lodged their complaints in July 2013, accusing Booking.com of exploiting its dominance of the market in Europe.

The investigations were coordinated with the help of the European Commission.

Booking.com is still embroiled in negotiations in other European countries and faces a separate legal action by France's top hotel group Accor.

Accor said Tuesday's decision "partly responds" to its concerns over the loss of control over pricing and promotion.

"For this decision to have a real impact … Expedia and other online sites must make the same commitments and that real competition emerges between online travel agents," the group said in a statement.

Expedia and another reservation site, HRS, have also had cases lodged against them and are currently in talks with France's competition commission.

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TOURISM

Tourism minister: Book your French ski holiday now

France’s ski resorts will be open for business this winter, tourism minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne has promised - but no decision has yet been taken on whether a health pass will be required to use ski lifts.

Skiers at a French Alpine resort
Photo: Philippe Desmazes / AFP

“This winter, it’s open, the resorts are open,” Lemoyne told France 2’s 4 Vérités programme.

“Compared to last year, we have the vaccine,” he said, adding that he would “invite those who have not yet done so to [book], because … there will soon be no more room.”

And he promised an answer ‘in the next few days’ to the question of whether health passes would be required for winter holidaymakers to use ski lifts. “Discussions are underway with the professionals,” he said.

The stakes are high: the closure of ski lifts last winter cost manufacturers and ski shops nearly a billion euros. 

This year ski lifts will remain open, but a health pass may be necessary to access them. The health pass is already compulsory for après ski activities such as visits to bars, cafés and restaurants.

COMPARE The Covid rules in place at ski resorts around Europe

Many town halls and communities which depend on winter sports have found it difficult or impossible to make ends meet.

“It’s time for the French mountains to revive,” Lemoyne said, pointing to the fact that the government has provided “more than €6 billion” in aid to the sector.

Winter tourism professionals, however, have said that they are struggling to recruit for the winter season.

“Restaurant and bars are very affected,” by the recruitment crisis, one expert told Franceinfo, blaming a lack of urgency from authorities towards the winter holiday industry.

“We are all asking ourselves what we should do tomorrow to find full employment in the resort,” the expert added.

Post-Brexit visa and work permit rules mean that ski businesses have found it difficult to recruit Brits for short-term, seasonal positions.

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