New Research Reveals a Rise in Online Hotel Booking Scams

WASHINGTON—Every 60 seconds, Americans make 500 hotel bookings online. And new research reveals that online scams and fraudulent sites are on the rise.

In 2015, just 6% of American travelers reported having booked on what they believed was a hotel’s official website, only to find they had booked on a fraudulent site—websites that use a variety of marketing tactics to mimic hotel websites but are not, in fact, affiliated with the hotel. Just two years later, the number of travelers reporting that same experience has nearly quadrupled to 22%. Today, that amounts to 55 million hotel bookings of this type each year, translating to $3.9 billion in “bad” bookings.

Furthermore, new evidence reveals consumers are not getting the deals they think they are from third-party booking sites. A poll commissioned by the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) details the extent to which online travel agencies can mislead consumers, revealing that 74% of travelers have less confidence booking with these sites after learning more about the prevalence of scams and deceptive marketing tactics.

To address these issues, AHLA launched the “Search Smarter” awareness campaign, aimed at helping travelers avoid lost reservations, additional fees and potentially ruined vacations. “In today’s increasingly digital marketplace, consumers rely on the comfort and ease of online hotel bookings,” said Katherine Lugar, president and CEO of AHLA. “Unfortunately, research reveals that as online bookings have surged, so have online booking scams. Too many consumers have been duped by these bait-and-switch websites. This kind of deceptive behavior cannot and will not be tolerated.”

Key takeaways of the poll include the following: There has been an astounding increase in the number of consumers who have fallen victim to booking scams by fraudulent websites—jumping from 6-22% in just two years; the overwhelming majority of consumers (74%) are unaware that Expedia and Priceline control 95% of the online travel market; 79% of consumers believe OTAs will yield better deals; and nearly 45% are influenced by misleading messages disclosing a sense of urgency.