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Authorities Search Booking.com Offices in Italy in Antitrust Probe

Authorities Search Booking.com Offices in Italy in Antitrust Probe

Italian authorities carried out inspections at the premises of Booking.com (Italia), the local company supporting Booking.com in Italy, Thursday (March 21) as part of an antitrust investigation.

The inspections were done by the Italian Competition Authority (AGCM) and the Special Antitrust Unit of the Italian Financial Police, AGCM said in a Friday (March 22) press release.

The investigation is focused on allegations that Booking.com abused its dominant position in the online intermediation and booking services market, according to the release.

“According to the authority, Booking is implementing a strategy aimed at reducing the freedom of Italian hotels in setting prices for the online sales channels,” the release said. “This strategy is likely to result in exclusionary effects in the market for online hotel intermediation and booking services.”

Reached for comment by PYMNTS, a spokesperson from Booking.com said the company is fully cooperating with the Guardia di Finanza and the Italian Competition Authority.

“While we are working with the authorities on this matter, we absolutely believe that concerns around competition should be handled with the [European Union] directly, in line with their current regulatory proposals — not additionally on a country-by-country basis,” the spokesperson said in an email.

The AGCM’s investigation is focused on Booking.com’s Preferred Partner Program and that program’s Preferred Plus extension, which allegedly give the hotels that are partners greater prominence in the search results in exchange for higher commissions and a commitment to offer prices on Booking.com that are not higher than those on the hotels’ own websites or other online travel agencies’ (OTAs’) platforms, the release said.

The AGCM also alleged that Booking.com monitors its hotel partners’ prices on other online channels and reserves the right to apply a discount to align the prices on its platform with the best price available elsewhere, without the consent of the hotel partner, per the release.

“Overall, this strategy is likely to hinder the unfolding of an effective competition in the (at least) national market for the online hotel intermediation and booking services, to the detriment of other OTAs, with adverse effects on hotels and ultimately consumers, in terms of higher prices and less choice for intermediation and booking services,” the release said.

In another action from July, the AGCM imposed a fine of 1.3 million euros (about $1.4 million) on eToro Europe, saying its investigation found that eToro misled consumers about the pricing of its services.

Also in July, the AGCM closed a probe into several energy groups without imposing any sanctions, saying the companies had taken actions to address competition concerns.