Operator ‘aghast’ at reservations website search policy

By Emily Hawkins

- Last updated on GMT

Setting expectations: Booking.com said its search policy is to ensure customers do not feel misled
Setting expectations: Booking.com said its search policy is to ensure customers do not feel misled

Related tags Bookings

An operator said he is concerned his area has been unfairly treated by a booking platform, being the second publican to report a room bookings drop after a review.

David Hydon from the Bell Inn said Booking.com had enacted an inconsistent policy when it came to inns outside city centres, and he was “aghast as to why”.

Room bookings dropped after the platform made a change in mid December that meant the pub – located in Wiltshire – was no longer visible when ‘Salisbury’ was searched for on its website.

It comes after another pub – the Swan at Stoford – was forced to close when its revenues dramatically dropped​ after its location listing was reclassified on the reservations website.

Booking.com’s guidelines mean only properties within a maximum of 7km radius (as the crow flies) can be attached to a specific pinpoint or ‘geopoint’. It said this was to manage customer expectations and avoid misleading potential visitors.

Customer expectations 

However, Hydon said his customers have always been made aware of the pub’s distance from the centre of Salisbury on the platform. The distance even enables visitors to pay less per night for a room and access free car parking, which would not be possible at city venues, he said.

He said: “[Potential customers] have all that information. I don't understand why Booking.com seems to take it on themselves to make this decision.”

The publican described a slow removal of sites outside the 7km parameter as “galling”, with the Swan being removed in November and similar sites having only just been taken off the ‘Salisbury search’.

Searches for similar-sized cities such as Winchester bring up properties outside the 7km radius, which has led Wiltshire operators to feel unfairly treated.

“It just seems like they have picked on Salisbury for some reason. We don't know why and are not getting any answers,” Hydon said.

“It took them three months to enact this change, which seems just absolutely bizarre to us.”

Addressing inconsistencies 

A spokesperson for Booking.com reiterated that it reviewed pubs’ location listings on a regular basis and made changes when inconsistencies were identified.

They said: “Our overarching aim at Booking.com is to provide our customers with transparent information that empowers them to find the stays and travel experiences that are just right for them, and this includes how we assign properties to a specific destination.

“If we are made aware of an inconsistency, we take steps to address it as part of our continuing efforts to set accurate expectations for our customers.”

The Bell did not have a single room booking through the platform in January, which has triggered concerns for how it will fare in the more popular summer months.

Hydon said he was apprehensive about his accommodation business going forward, as the pub relies on standard takings of between £5,000 and £6,000 per month from May through to September.

He added: “The problem is until we start to get into those months, we are not going to know the full impact. We're only a small pub.

“We will trade through to September and if we haven't had the income come through, we will not be able to trade through the winter. There will be no pointing staying open.”

Tiny village

As the pub is 7.2km from the city centre pin, it has been reclassified as South Newton, which is not a go-to tourist destination like Salisbury.

The operator explained: “It’s that old story, who is going to search South Newton? It's a tiny little village. Nobody is going to search for it.”

Pub operators’ indigence over the changes led to a number of meetings between VisitWiltshire and Booking.com.

David Andrews, director at the marketing organisation, said: “Following on from a recent meeting with the platform, it’s our understanding that the 7km radius is a global policy that has been in place for a number of years, but has only been applied to businesses and properties operating in Salisbury and the surrounding areas, recently.”

The Swan operator Dan King accused the website of “market manipulation”​, given so many sites depend on it for room bookings. 

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