Booking hotels through an online travel agent (OTA) often involves various risks as the accommodations could turn out not as good as advertised, industry insiders have warned.
Many tourists and hotel owners have recently complained about the risks of this new model of accommodation booking.
Ad vs. reality
In Vietnam, advertisements of hotels through OTA are oftentimes misleading, resulting in various cases whereby customers had to cancel the booking when seeing the hotels firsthand, or file a lawsuit against the hotel’s owner or the OTA.
Richard Terry Warneminde, an Australian tourist, booked a six-night stay from November 11 to November 17, 2016 at the Green Organic Villa Resort in south-central Binh Thuan Province’s Phan Thiet City.
While it was advertised as a four-star resort on booking.com, when Warneminde arrived at the hotel, he realized that the place was not that good.
As Warneminde’s request to have his VND12 million (US$528) deposit refunded was refused, the Australian decided to file a lawsuit against the resort.
On February 13, Binh Thuan tourism department handed a fine of VND25 million (US$1,100) over the hotel’s owner for operating for three months without applying for assessment from authorities.
Le Dac Lam, director of an OTA named Vntrip, said that when the customers are not satisfied with the hotel’s facilities, his employees will try their best to arrange the guests to a different place and suspend the wrongly advertised hotel on their website.
Self-rating stars is commonplace
Nguyen Thanh Nien, owner of a resort in Phan Thiet, has also filed various complaints to competent agencies regarding the issue that many resorts and hotels grant themselves three or four stars without having gone through the verification process by authorities.
“Resorts which self-rated three or four stars often provide cheaper room prices than those getting verified by competent agencies, causing an unfair competitiveness,” explained Nien.
Many OTAs simply advertise those low-quality and un-starred hotels or resorts without verifying the authenticity of the provided information.
Some OTAs, however, do remove the star rating of the hotel advertised on their websites when receiving complaints from customers.
An owner of a Ho Chi Minh City-based hotel said that most hotels are responsible for providing room prices, services, and images of their hotels when advertising on an OTA.
Some OTA also provide services to help make the images or photos of the hotels look more appealing or help to polish the words used in the advertisement without substantially changing the original contents, the previously-mentioned hotel owner said.
However, in many cases, some OTA also grant the hotel the desired stars and exaggerate advertisement above the acceptable limit, creating misleading information to potential customers.
Most OTA put it clearly in their policies that they do not take responsibilities for information regarding services of hotels or resorts advertised on their website. So, customers often have difficulty suing OTA when the services of a place do not meet their expectations.
When encountering problem, customers are advised to work directly with hotel’s or resort’s staff, not with OTA, said Tu Quy Thanh, director of Lien Bang Travelink Co.
Customers should not just choose a hotel because of its low price. They should spend some time reading over the feedbacks of previous customers before making the decisions.
The director also advised online bookers to capture screenshots of their booking process as proofs in case of filing a complaint.
Ngoc Huan, a resident in Tan Binh District, Ho Chi Minh City, became a victim of misleading information when he recently booked a hotel in Taiwan through an OTA.
According to Huan, the hotel was advertised with several good features such as four-star rating, vintage interior and close location to the city’s downtown.
The place’s services are rated 8 out of 10 by previous customers, and the advertisement was full of beautiful photos of the place.
However, when Huan arrived in Taiwan and saw the hotel himself, he was shocked as the place turned out extremely old, dampened, and its bed sheets had yellowish color.Despite his extreme dissatisfaction with the accommodation, Huan had to stay there for one night as he had already paid a deposit.