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$800M fine looms large for Booking amid alleged competition violations

Spanish authorities are imposing a massive fine on Booking Holdings for alleged anti-competitive practices.

Spanish authorities are imposing a massive fine on Booking Holdings for alleged anti-competitive practices.

According to the online travel giant, Spain’s antitrust watchdog has proposed a €486 million (AU$800 million) penalty against Booking for allegedly engaging in anti-competitive practices, including restricting domestic hotel groups from offering lower prices on their own websites than those on its flagship brand Booking.com. 

Sources familiar with Booking’s stance say the company disagrees with claims of wrongdoing because it believes that allowing higher prices on their website might harm consumers, The Financial Times reported.

According to FT, Booking said the Spanish National Markets and Competition Commission will finalise its decision in the coming months.

In a statement sent to Karryon, Booking said it is “disappointed” by the draft decision, and that it “strongly disagrees with its findings”.

Booking.com headquarters in the Netherlands

“We will soon file notification for the EU’s Digital Markets Act (DMA), which is intended to ensure consistent rules for online platforms across the EU and avoid fragmentation at a national level,” said the company, which plans to appeal the fine if it materialises.  

“We believe this is the right forum to discuss and assess the main concerns raised by the CNMC, presenting an opportunity to agree on solutions that apply across Europe rather than country by country.”

Amid news of the proposed fine, regulators worldwide are reviewing tech deals to limit technology groups’ growing power, particularly if it harms local companies. 

Last year, the European Union (EU) blocked Booking’s acquisition of Sweden’s flights-only Etraveli, which includes brands like Gotogate and Mytrip, despite the UK’s earlier approval of the deal.

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Company executives are now worried about facing fines from both individual member states and the EU as a whole, especially with the upcoming enforcement of the DMA next month, which aims to open up markets across the 27-member bloc.

Big tech companies, like Booking, with yearly sales surpassing €7.5 billion, a market value above €75 billion, and 45 million monthly users in the EU will be forced to comply with the new rules, which will require companies to share data, link to competitors and ensure their services work with other apps.

Last week, Booking Holdings announced its financial results for the 2023 calendar year, with gross business up 24 per cent year-on-year, to $150.6 billion (around AU$230 billion). 

On the back of a 17 per cent rise in booked room nights, total revenue rose by 25 per cent to US$21.4 billion, with net income growing 40 per cent to US$4.3 billion.