A 5min read  about the increasing guest confusion because they don’t know who they’re booking with.

How many times have you blithely clicked through and just agreed to terms and conditions on any e-commerce site? You know when you get to this stage of a process, whether it’s buying a bar of soap or making a holiday booking, this most important option is left to the last page.

You will have spent all this time deciding where to stay, deciding how to book, entering your details and then you see the “Tick here to agree to our Terms & Conditions” with a hyperlink:

terms-2

or “you agree” regardless of a tick box…

Terms


 Most people accept T&C’s to avoid delays & self-questioning

We all know that if you do click the T&C’s link, then you may need a law degree to understand what is written and you may well not be any the wiser. The second image above leads to a document with 5113 words. This is not a two-minute read and you would be advised to brush up on your legal studies.

Most people click and trust these boxes to avoid the delays and self-questioning. This is where the basic understanding of the booking process and principles of an Online Travel Agent (OTA) falls over for 90% of Guests.


Guests believe their booking is being made directly with the OTA

Most guests believe, if they enter their credit card details on an OTA checkout page, a booking is being made directly with the OTA and they are the principle or at very least responsible and liable to some degree!

This couldn’t be further from the truth…

The guest is invariably booking with the host, the OTA is a middle man that inserts itself between the guest and the host and the chosen holiday home. In the images above the first agreement is with the host the second is actually the rental terms a guest agrees with the OTA,  not even a checkbox!

These sites are called “transactional e-commerce platforms” and need to distance the guest from the host, to ensure no “financial leakage” which is why communication is often so difficult. If a guest can communicate openly then there is the chance they may strike a better deal off the site with the owner. This is the reason so many issues arise on Hybrid sites where emails, URLs and any form of easy identification are removed.

Check out HomeAway’s terms with owners here if a guest wants to book or talk to an owner or manager and you will understand the enforced distance.

HOMEAWAY’s TERMS WITH OWNERS FOR GUEST COMMUNICATION

https://help.homeaway.co.uk/articles/What-are-the-HomeAway-Marketplace-standards

Owners and property managers are expected to adhere to the following standards when listing a property on the HomeAway network of sites through both our pay-per-booking and annual subscription listing models. Offences to these standards are violations of our Terms and Conditions, and are subject to the penalties outlined in this article. Explicit requests to travellers to take bookings off platform are not allowed for online bookable listings. This includes language, URLs, or phone numbers on your listing page or in communications that direct travellers to another website or to book directly through you.


OTA’s Add Apparent Trust and Safety

These sites work by adding apparent value to the transaction: trust & safety, especially for the buyer who usually has to take the first step by sending money to a stranger. Features like feedback score, dispute resolution processes and payment protection messages will make a buyer want to transact through the platform, while also providing sellers with some security tools. But even these promises are countered in the T&C’s.

Some add insurances, but most travellers have insurance anyway. Plus if a guest pays by credit card the liability is covered in the event of issues!


OTA’s Don’t Want Any Responsibility

The OTA’s do not want to have any involvement in the physical mechanics of the booking process, the property descriptions or images, the hosts’ issues, guests complaints and of course they accept no liabilities as they are not involved in the booking process. The T&C’s explain all this, guests just need to read them or at least have an understanding.

“we are not a party to any rental transaction and assume no liability for legal or regulatory compliance pertaining to any Property Listed on the Site”

There are millions of properties listed, no responsibility is taken for what is shown:

Such content is the responsibility of the Owner or third party creator of the content. We have no responsibility for such content….we do not endorse, support, represent or guarantee the truthfulness, accuracy or reliability of any information in the Listings on the Site or any opinions/content posted by third parties.

There are no governing bodies or international regulations, such as IATA, they are not tour operators with guest obligations.  In reality, they are the modern version of a catalogue where the advertiser pays to be shown, the buyers pay to buy and the company pockets one or both of the advertising fees. The real difference is that you often can’t see the advertiser’s contact details and there is no duty of care in the representation of the advert or involvement in the actual booking!


Summary of OTA terms & conditions

For the avoidance of any doubt, these are the terms of the brand sites noted below:

  1. The agreement is always with the host, never with these brands sites.
  2. The payment is sometimes through a third party, not even the brand site and your card details can be transmitted externally to third party systems.
  3. The brand companies take no responsibility for the booking, the adverts, the property or service as specified in the terms.
  4. A service fee is often added to the booking amount for this privilege despite a guest having little of no option to challenge the brand sites based on these terms. This particular line caught our eye:

“The service fee covers the use of the Site, including such features as 24/7 support”

If you search the site for 30 minutes and then make a booking this service fee could constitute an hourly rate of over $790, when a service fee is involved, depending on the value of your booking. Good if you can get it!


References

We have extracted the salient points from several OTA T&C’s and highlighted the ones below you may wish to consider as you, the guest are paying for the privilege. So is the host, who is also charged significant sums to be seen online.

HomeAway

https://www.homeaway.co.uk/info/about-us/legal/terms-conditions/traveller

The Site acts only as a venue for users to interact with each other.

2.2 HomeAway is not, and does not become, a party to any contractual relationship between the Traveller and the Owner, and does not mediate between the Traveller and the Owner in the event of any dispute arising between them.

2.3 Please be aware that, even though we are not a party to any rental transaction and assume no liability for legal or regulatory compliance pertaining to any Property Listed on the Site.

2.4 HomeAway will charge a service fee payable by Travellers who book a Property on the Site via the Site checkout. The service fee covers the use of the Site, including such features as 24/7 support.

2.6 The Site is made up of Property Listings provided by Owners and content from other third parties. Such content is the responsibility of the Owner or third party creator of the content. We have no responsibility for such content….we do not endorse, support, represent or guarantee the truthfulness, accuracy or reliability of any information in the Listings on the Site or any opinions/content posted by third parties.

3.5 For online payment, a Traveller whose booking was confirmed by the Owner will be able to pay with their credit card through the payments gateway offered by our third party payment provider……..that HomeAway has no control over or any responsibility for this service.

5.5 You acknowledge that HomeAway is not responsible for checking the identity, or for the behaviour, of Owners or for establishing the nature, condition or existence of a Property.

7.4 Please note that HomeAway does not, and realistically does not have the ability to, verify the accuracy or otherwise of Traveller Reviews, Owner Responses or Owner Reviews.

12.1 The Site is merely a venue ………..nor do we acc. We accept no liability in relation to any contract you enter into with an Owner or for any Property you book.

Booking.com

http://www.booking.com/content/terms.en-gb.html

RESPONSIBILITY/LIABILITY/CARE OF CONTRACT

  1. From the point at which you make your reservation, we act solely as an intermediary between you and the accommodation, transmitting the details of your reservation to the relevant accommodation provider and sending you a confirmation email for and on behalf of the accommodation provider……. we will not verify if, and cannot guarantee that, all information is accurate, complete or correct, nor can we be held responsible for any errors
Airbnb

https://www.airbnb.co.uk/terms

  1. YOU UNDERSTAND AND AGREE THAT AIRBNB IS NOT A PARTY TO ANY AGREEMENTS ENTERED INTO BETWEEN HOSTS AND GUESTS,

AIRBNB CANNOT AND DOES NOT CONTROL THE CONTENT CONTAINED IN ANY LISTINGS AND THE CONDITION, LEGALITY OR SUITABILITY OF ANY ACCOMMODATIONS.

AIRBNB IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR AND DISCLAIMS ANY AND ALL LIABILITY RELATED TO ANY AND ALL LISTINGS AND ACCOMMODATIONS. ACCORDINGLY, ANY BOOKINGS WILL BE MADE OR ACCEPTED AT THE MEMBER’S OWN RISK

  1. e) You acknowledge and agree that you, and not Airbnb, will be responsible for performing the obligations of any such agreements, that Airbnb is not a party to such agreements…….

https://www.airbnb.co.uk/terms/payments_terms

  1. D Financial Terms for Guests regarding Bookings

You acknowledge and agree that, notwithstanding the fact that Airbnb Payments is not a party to the agreement between you and the Host, Airbnb Payments acts as the Host’s payment collection agent for the limited purpose of accepting payments from you on behalf of the Host.

TripAdvisor

https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/pages/terms.html

Because neither TripAdvisor nor its affiliates are parties to rental transactions between travellers and Advertisers, any dispute or conflict involving an actual or potential transaction between you and an Advertiser, including the quality, condition, safety or legality of a listed property, the accuracy of the listing content, the Advertiser’s ability to rent a vacation rental property, or your ability to pay for a vacation rental property, is solely the responsibility of each user.

https://www.holidaylettings.co.uk/content/terms

We act as agent for the Advertiser for the facilitation of payments in relation to booking transactions through our site and for purposes of onward distribution of your advertisements. Except for this agency relationship, nothing in this Advertiser Agreement or in your use of our site creates, or is intended to establish, any partnership, joint venture or similar relationship between us and the Advertiser.

For the avoidance of doubt, we never act as a principal in connection with any of the transactions or services available on or through our site.

As between the Holidaymakers and us, nothing in this Advertiser Agreement or in their use of our site creates, or is intended to establish, any agency relationship, partnership or joint venture between us and Holidaymakers.

Service Fees

Please check this link for a site dedicated to service fees