When China joined the World Trade Organization in 2002, the Chinese government agreed to several market-based principles and commitments, including allowing foreign computer reservation systems (now known as GDSs) to have “direct access” to agents of foreign airlines, subject to approval of the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC). Despite these commitments, GDSs based outside of China still do not have unrestricted access to participate in the Chinese travel market – either for booking intra-China travel, or for booking travel by Chinese nationals to foreign destinations. Access is being suppressed due to retaliatory actions taken by the state-owned incumbent, TravelSky, against Chinese agents that choose to do business with foreign GDSs. This makes China the only major market in the world that does not permit access by any GDS that wants to serve the market.
Were U.S. and other GDSs allowed to operate within China’s borders and compete with each other and with TravelSky, the Chinese airlines and traveling public would benefit immensely from better travel search and other advanced travel technology that these GDSs offer in the global travel marketplace. The GDSs would also benefit from access to one of the largest travel markets in the world. One result of this win-win development would be to bring more Chinese visitors to the United States, which will have an enormous and positive impact on our nation’s economy.
Our members have created a vibrant marketplace where consumers can shop for hotels, flights, car rentals, and other travel-related activities across hundreds of brands on a single platform. Leisure and business travelers benefit greatly from the ability to search, compare, and book travel through the advanced technological solutions created and developed by today’s innovative and popular OTAs. When suppliers must compete in a dynamic marketplace, consumers benefit in the form of lower prices and better service offerings. It is clear the American public not only relies on the convenience of shopping across multiple travel brands in a single place, but they continue to trust OTAs with their vacation and business travel itineraries. Each year, consumers book over 635 million hotel room nights through OTAs, and by the end of 2017 more than ¼ of online travel transactions in the United States will be conducted on mobile devices.
Unfortunately, not all suppliers in the travel marketplace appreciate a truly competitive environment. Over the past few years the hotel industry’s association has been telling members of Congress that shopping on online travel company websites is unsafe, and that “millions” of people every year are scammed while making hotel reservations. Citing a handful of anecdotes, the hotel lobby openly drafted and supported legislation that would have, among other things, placed unnecessary and unhelpful new disclosure requirements on OTAs, all while doing absolutely nothing to benefit the consumer. Fortunately, Congress agreed that the premise of the legislation was completely without merit, and the bill went nowhere.
Travel Tech proudly stands with our innovative and transparent online travel agency members who have worked with hotels hand-in-glove for a generation to inspire consumers to travel more and fill more rooms.
Whether choosing a hotel, a tour guide, a pair of shoes or tomorrow's restaurant, consumers benefit from customer reviews. It helps shoppers feel more secure in their choices to know others have had a good experience. And it gives companies an opportunity to receive feedback and improve their service.
Customer reviews are more popular than ever. Travel Tech member companies alone host hundreds of millions of reviews on their platforms. As consumers continue to rely upon the positive experiences of others to help make purchase choices, some companies began to take extreme measures to avoid negative reviews - adding gag clauses into the fine print in an effort to censor their customers' feedback.
Take, for example, a hotel in Hudson, NY that threatened a $500 fine for every negative review on Yelp. Or the couple in Utah who was charged $3500 for leaving a negative feedback. A pet-sitting company sued a customer $1 million after receiving a 1 star review.
Rep. Joseph Kennedy III, Rep. Leonard Lance, Sen. John Thune and Sen. Brian Schatz took the lead on addressing these issues and introduced the Consumer Review Fairness Act, which makes these kinds of gag clauses illegal. Travel Tech supported the bill.
In a major win for consumers, CRFA was passed by the 114th Congress and President Obama signed it into law just this month.