Consumer council warns travellers to be careful of online booking sites
With the advent of online travel services the chore of booking a hotel room has been reduced to a few clicks of the mouse and the input of a credit card number.
But travellers should be wary about who they give their money to, after the city's consumer watchdog saw a threefold rise in complaints about websites that provided hotel-booking services.
In one case, a visitor had booked accommodation on one such site, only to be forced upon arrival to pay for a more expensive room because the original one was "unavailable", the Consumer Council said.
He was then told his new room had not been cleaned yet and would be available only later in the day.
Another major complaint was over discrepancies between prices displayed online and charges imposed in the actual transaction, the council said.
"On many occasions, hotel prices stated on a website would claim to be a 'low-price guarantee', but would omit hidden charges such as taxes," said Professor Michael Hui King-man, chairman of the council's publicity and community relations committee.
The council issued a stern warning about online booking in its latest issue of Choice Magazine yesterday, but did not name any errant sites.
It recorded at least 48 complaints about websites in the first nine months of the year, up from 16 in the same period last year.
Many of the complaints pertained to disputes over pricing, dubious surcharges and hotel rooms that differed from what had been promised online.
Many websites also failed to specify clearly whether breakfasts were included.
Other complaints were directed at faulty bookings in which hotel rooms booked via the websites turned out to be incorrect or even unavailable. Some sites also ran complicated and dubious "free" cancellation procedures, the council said in its report.
"Consumers are urged to check where the website is registered and under which country's laws it is regulated," Hui said.
"Only reliable and well-known sites should be used. If you have not heard of a website, the risk of a problem is significantly higher."
Travellers should make sure hotel-booking sites were accredited and had the necessary contact details clearly cited, the council said.
It also called on consumers to check payment details carefully.
Accredited Hong Kong-based hotel-booking websites are listed on the Travel Agents Registry and Travel Industry Council.