Brandjacking is a big problem for small businesses that have brand cache but are competing on line with giant online platforms. One sector that is really suffering from brandjackers are hotels, guesthouses and B&B’s whose offerings are swamped by search engines.
In order to be at all visible online these businesses often feel pressure to sign up with an on-line travel agent like Booking.com or Expedia. In doing so they sign up to terms which allow the travel agent sites to use the name of the hotel or guesthouse as an ad word meaning that even a direct search for the hotel can result in a visitor seeing the travel agent site first. Other onerous terms and conditions in the travel agent site may prevent a hotel giving better rates to its direct customers.
Both these practices restrict competition and have a damaging effect on both the consumer and the hotel owner. The consumer ends up paying a higher price for accommodation even if they have for example been recommended to a hotel by a friend and just want to book that. Hotels are damaged because signing up to a travel agent site is very costly for small businesses whose margins may not be that high but who then have to pay a hefty commission to the travel agent site. Small businesses have zero negotiating power. To be on a travel agent site you must agree to their terms.
At Briffa we have battled for small business owners against this type of corporate bad behaviour. We have seen at first hand the tricks that can be used against those who refuse to play ball. We worked for one business that terminated its relationship with an online travel agent only to find that the site continued to list its site. The visitor who searched for the name of the hotel was then taken to a link which advised that the hotel had no vacancies for the dates selected. In many cases this was not true and simply a way for the online agent to divert traffic to other hotels still signed up with the agent. Today we learnt that a hotel owner has set up a parliamentary petition to make brandjacking of this kind unlawful as it already is in France, Germany and Italy.
We have helped many hotel owners to break free of the clutches of the online agent and still survive. First of all a hotel needs to be sure it has registered the name of its hotel as a trade mark and also protected other elements of its brand that help fend off the march of the internet giants. These simple steps combined with a willingness to demand change and employ alternative and clever marketing will do much to redress the balance. Meanwhile we hope for changes in the law that will prevent the unwary being lured into agreements which are unfair and which may lead to restricted consumer choice as those same businesses fail to survive.
Written by Margaret Briffa, Solicitor