Hotels vs. Online Booking Services vs. Consumers


There’s a powerful new dynamic in the hotel industry that impacts small hotels and independent tourists hugely. I’m trying to sort it out and here’s my take:

In the last decade or so it’s become almost impossible for independent-minded, small, family-run hotels to survive without playing the game as dictated by the big players in the online booking world. Sites like and take roughly 80 percent of the hotel reservation business. Hoteliers note that without this online presence, “we become almost invisible.” But online booking services demand a 20 to 25 percent commission and, in order to be listed on their service, a hotel must promise not to undercut the price on that site. Without that caveat, hoteliers could say, “Sure, sell our rooms for whatever markup you like and we’ll continue to offer a fair rate to travelers who come to us directly.” But that’s no longer possible.

The work-around for making hotel reservations: Those who book direct through a hotel’s website (and not through the booking agency site, thus saving the hotel about 20 percent) can be offered a free breakfast or free upgrade. Or, simply don’t book “online.” Just book by direct email or phone, in which case, hotels are free to give you whatever price they like (usually able to split the difference: charging 10 percent less and making 10 percent more).

As consumers, remember: whenever you reserve with an online booking service, for the small convenience offered by the booking site you’re adding a needless middleman who takes 20 to 25 percent. To support small, family-run hotels (whose world is more difficult than ever these days) and to get a better price, do your research online and then book not through third parties but direct by phone or email.

What’s your take on this situation and experience in getting the best price?


This is Day 62 of my “100 Days in Europe” series. As I travel with Rick Steves’ Europe Tours, research my guidebooks, and make new TV shows, I’m reporting on my experiences across Europe. Still to come: Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and more. Thanks for joining me here on my blog and via Facebook.