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In brief: Travel giant Booking.com has failed to pay many hotel operators and other partners for months due to what it calls a "technical issue." Reports state that those affected have been unable to get in touch with someone at the company to address the problem, with some operators complaining that they have had to take on extra jobs to cover the lack of payments. Others say they have lost their properties as a result.
Booking.com is the 53rd most-visited website in the world with over 515 million visitors per month. But a new report from The Guardian has questioned its ability to pay some of those who use its services to attract customers.
The site works by taking the full booking fee from a customer if they elect to pay upfront and passes it on to the hotel operator, minus Booking.com's commission.
But Booking.com partners say they have reported issues relating to receiving payments since July – even earlier, in some cases. The Guardian spoke to hotel operators who say that while the site continued to take bookings from users, they have not always received the full amount due. The issue is said to be widespread in Thailand, Indonesia and Europe.
An American national who operates hostels in Thailand said Booking.com stopped passing on payments for one of his hostels in mid-April. "There was one chunk that got delayed, separate from the rest, and then all payments disappeared. So six months without payment," he said. He added the property has since been seized by the owners due to failed rent payments.
Those affected have complained about the difficulty in contacting someone at Booking.com to help. There are reportedly no numbers or email addresses for finance or credit control, which the Booking.com website says partners must contact in these situations. It is possible to call a contact center, which lodges a ticket. But it expires every four days, requiring another call to lodge a new ticket. Some people have resorted to contacting company representatives through LinkedIn and social media.
Travel bloggers and websites that receive affiliate payments are also said to have been impacted. There have also been instances of operators receiving their money once their story became public.
The Hungarian consumer watchdog raided Booking.com's local office following reports of payment issues last month.
When asked about the problem, a Booking.com spokesperson said, "We understand the frustration of the accommodation hosts and owners that have been unduly affected by an ongoing technical issue and can confirm that the system errors that affected the payments have now been corrected and the transactions of most of our partners have been processed."
"We acknowledge that for some this has taken longer than it should have and continue to work urgently to finalise the rest of the transactions. If any partner has an issue, they can contact us through the Partner Hub."
Some partners say repayments are not enough. They want hotels to be paid with added market interest and for Booking.com's commissions to be waived.
The Booking Group reported total revenues of $5.5 billion and a profit of $1.3 billion for the second quarter of 2023. That marks year-on-year increases of 27% and 51%, respectively. There were also "lower than expected" IT expenses in Q2, partly due to the phasing of IT spending into the third quarter.