Quite a bit has happened since we wrote a blog last month detailing our difficulties with travel industry giant Expedia, Expedia: Bad for the Traveler, Bad for the Hotel, mostly due to the power of social media.
For starters, our story seemed to touch a lot of folks. In fact so many people liked what we had to say and shared it with others, that our blog eventually went viral. Thousands of people have read our story and many have e-mailed Expedia to complain about how we were treated.
The blog was first shared on various Facebook pages and then by internet news networks Hacker News and Reddit.com. Adrianne Jeffries of The Verge online news service interviewed us and wrote an excellent article about the situation: One Small Hotel’s Long Nightmare with Expedia. Next came the The Daily Mail, London’s second largest newspaper, which posted an online story about Expedia’s bad behavior towards us. And it just kept going. Blog after blog picked up our story and shared it; people throughout the world tweeted and retweeted our story on Twitter, and it was spread all around Facebook. Most recently we were interviewed on Blogtalk Radio by Canadian Travel Expert Deanna Byrne: David vs Goliath. Small Independent Hotel Battles Expedia.
We are overwhelmed by this amazing response and moved beyond words by the avalanche of support we have received. To everyone who passed our story along, commented on it, and e-mailed or messaged us words of support or suggestions on how to handle this situation, thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
Expedia Finally Responds
As a result of this internet activity Expedia finally responded to our situation…kind of.
One common reaction to our blog was a bit of healthy skepticism. Many people said ‘That’s terrible, but it’s only one side of the story. I want to hear from Expedia.’ So did we. We had been waiting for a response from Expedia for months. We never got one. However it seems that while Expedia could and did ignore all of our e-mails and phone calls, they were less able to withstand the power of social media and the press. Expedia finally broke its silence on our situation when contacted by Adrianne Jeffries for her story on The Verge. Of course they didn’t have much to say.
The Expedia spokesman refused to comment on our allegations and would only say that: “Expedia … can confirm Luna Blue Hotel and Expedia are no longer working together.“
So Expedia says it isn’t doing business with us. That’s great; it’s what we have been asking for for several months. But we have just one more question:
Expedia: If we are no longer working together, WHY ARE WE LISTED ON YOUR AFFILIATE BOOKING SITES ACROSS THE INTERNET AS A PARTNER HOTEL AND WHY ARE YOU STILL TELLING PEOPLE WE HAVE NO ROOMS AVAILABLE AT ANY TIME?
Expedia still hasn’t answered that question.
Expedia by Any Other Name is Still Expedia
Shortly after our story appeared on The Verge, and after causing several long months of damage to us, Expedia finally disabled the Luna Blue Hotel pages on the Expedia website. At least people going to Expedia’s main pages would no longer be told we had no rooms available. Unfortunately this is a tiny step with little consequence given the size of Expedia’s reach. Expedia STILL continues to list us on dozens of their affiliate sites throughout the internet. The on-line booking site Venere is a perfect example.
Venere is a subsidiary of Expedia. Like Hotels.com, Hotwire and many other travel sites, it is wholly owned by Expedia and acts a booking site using Expedia’s database.
We have never contracted with Venere and never given it permission to list our property. Yet Venere/Expedia claims it is a booking agent for our hotel. When anyone uses Venere to check for availability they are linked back to Expedia which says we have no rooms to rent ever… and then they are directed to other more expensive hotels! And we continue to be listed, with no availability showing, on many sites linking to Venere/Expedia such as travelyahoo.com, cleartrip, holidaywatchdog.com, travelpod.com, tingo, reservetravel.com and many others.
The biggest and most important site to link to Expedia/Venere’s false information is TripAdvisor.
TripAdvisor is the world’s largest travel website. It maintains pages about nearly every hotel in an area, including ours, upon which people can post reviews. Also on these hotel pages, TA sells space for advertisers and vendors like Expedia, Venere, Hotels.com, etc. On our TripAdvisor page Expedia/Venere places a link or tick box which says you can check with them for availability and “best rates” at our hotel. There are two problems with that… 1.) we aren’t doing business with Expedia/Venere and 2.) when you click the link, Expedia once again falsely says we have no availability ever.
In other words, anyone looking at our hotel on the largest travel website in the world will be directed to Venere/Expedia and told, falsely, that we have no rooms to rent! And yet…Expedia says it’s no longer working with us. To Expedia, we guess “no longer working together ” doesn’t mean that they won’t use our name to fraudulently lure people to other hotels on their site.
We recently asked TripAdvisor to remove this link, which they have temporarily done. However they removed this link in the past at our request only to have it return shortly thereafter. Unfortunately TA tells us they really have no control over the space they sell to Expedia. Each month Expedia resubmits its designated links to TA for posting on its pages. Although Expedia/Venere is saying they don’t do business with us, they have been continuing to advertise our hotel each month on TripAdvisor, claiming to be our booking agent. We will see what February brings. For now, Expedia’s war on small hotels continues.
We Aren’t the Only Victims of Expedia
So as you can see, Expedia’s tiny gesture of removing us from the Expedia page does little to stop the continuing damage they are doing to us. And frankly we are not surprised by this. Because along with the well wishes and messages of support we have received in response to our first blog, we have also been swamped with people–both consumers and those in the travel business–telling their horror stories concerning Expedia. For some examples just take a look at the comments people have posted on our previous blog post. Many of them relate their own nightmares with Expedia and are quite enlightening.
The stories we have heard range from horrible customer service to stories similar to ours… i.e. hotels being listed as having no availability on Expedia when there are plenty of rooms open. However the one that struck us as the most outrageous was the story of Columbus, Georgia. It seems that this small town had a dispute with Expedia, demanding that Expedia pay certain taxes which were required of anyone booking hotel rooms. Expedia refused, and the city of Columbus brought a lawsuit against them. However, Expedia wanted more than a court decision. It wanted to punish this little town and anyone who did business there. So Expedia wiped Columbus off the map by removing EVERY hotel in the town from all of its affiliated travel sites, as if the town didn’t even exist. If you went to Expedia and looked for a hotel in the town of Columbus, you were told there weren’t any, and directed to hotels in the next town! To embarrass the city government and bring pressure on it, Expedia attacked every hotel in that town not because the hotels had done something wrong, but because they were being used as pawns in Expedia’s ever widening attempt to control all travel bookings. Expedia continued to hide every hotel in Columbus, Georgia from every one of its websites for over five years, until the case was finally settled.
In our opinion this example clearly shows Expedia’s corporate goal is not mere financial success but it is instead to seek complete and improper control of the travel industry market…and woe to anyone who protests or stands in its way.
What to Do?
So people continue to ask: what can be done about this? The answer is we aren’t sure. A lot of people have written and urged us to lead some sort of campaign against Expedia. But that is not our role here. We work full time to make our hotel a success. It is a 7 day a week/24 hours a day job. We jokingly say that we are the whitest people in the Caribbean. Everyone has a better tan than we do as we never seem to have time to get to the beach. So we are not in a position to lead a crusade. All we can do is speak out to tell people the truth about what was done to us by Expedia and help educate others about travel companies such as Expedia and its affiliates.
The simplest response to Expedia’s misconduct is …don’t use them or their affiliates: Venere.com, Egencia.com, eLong.com, Hotwire.com, Hotels.com, Localexpert.com or any of the websites listed above. Don’t book your vacation though a nameless, faceless data bank but instead talk to people who actually know about the places you want to visit. Call the hotel or restaurant or tour operator directly. Or call a travel agent who specializes in the type of travel or destinations you want. We don’t suggest this just because we feel that Expedia harms small businesses such as ours. We suggest it also because you are better off making your own decisions about your vacation than leaving them in the hands of large corporations who do not act as your advocate.
Remember: the claim that Expedia offers lower rates is not generally true. Expedia may at times buy blocks of rooms from large hotels or hotel chains and offer them at a discounted rate. However those hotels are unlikely to offer additional amenities or benefits as they have already tremendously discounted the rate to Expedia. On the other hand, you may get a better deal by contacting the hotel directly. In dealing with guests directly, hotels–particularly independent and small hotels–may be much more willing to offer discounts, upgrades, specials or promotions if you book directly. Remember, Expedia has no ability to negotiate with you for hotel prices, special requests or amenities. The hotel does. Call them directly.
Don’t Start Your Research on Expedia or Related Sites
Some people say they use Expedia just to get an overview of available hotels before booking directly. The problem with this is that Expedia ONLY lists hotels it has chosen to promote. There will be many other fine accommodations which you will miss if you limit your search to Expedia. If you want to do your own research, which we strongly suggest you do, check out Tripadvisor, which will list nearly every hotel available in an area, since hotels do not pay to be on those pages, and read their reviews. Or have a reputable travel agent give you options. A travel agent will act as your advocate, if you don’t feel comfortable doing it yourself, ultimately leading to a better vacation–which is what it’s all about.
Always remember it is your vacation and your money…don’t let somebody else tell you how or where to spend it. Don’t let some mega-corporation limit your travel choices.
Some Good News
We continue to receive not only messages of support, but bookings as well. The word is getting out and people are finding they can reserve at our hotel by contacting us directly via our website, e-mail or Facebook. And we have been contacted by several quality travel agents with whom we have begun working. Sadly, we we are still getting way too many messages that say “I heard about the problem with Expedia too late. I booked another hotel because I thought you were full.” So we are keeping up our efforts to tell travelers around the world…we are open and we have availability.
We are also very excited, as this week were were awarded a 2013 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Award for being one of the best Bargain Hotels in Mexico! TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Awards have been given each year for the last 11 years to the world’s top properties. This is the second time we have won this award, and we are very proud about that. According to TripAdvisor, “Unlike any other hotel honors, TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice winners are based on millions of valuable reviews and opinions covering more than 650,000 hotels and collected in a single year from travelers around the world.” Thank you to all of our guests who wrote such great reviews about us on TripAdvisor’s Luna Blue page. We remain committed to offering our guests the same high level of service and accommodations which have earned us this award.
In closing, once again, we would like to say thank you to all who offered support and helped spread the word. We deeply appreciate it. Now…come join us in paradise.