International Journal of Tourism, Travel and Hospitality Law 2023

INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF TOURISM, TRAVEL AND HOSPITALITY LAW 1 INTRODUCTION The internet has now become the main communication channel through which tourist accommodation is booked. Hotels and other accommodation providers usually allow the guests to make reservations of rooms on their websites. Nevertheless, most online reservations are not made directly but through a new kind of tourist intermediaries – online booking platforms that enable their customers to compare and choose between the offerings of a large number of accommodation providers in a chosen area. and are the two most prominent examples of such platforms. The former is similar to traditional travel agencies as it facilitates bookings in hotels and other established commercial accommodation providers, whereas the latter is typically associated with the concept of sharing economy in the form of short-time rentals of private apartments and other lodgings not primarily intended for tourist purposes. Yet, the distinction between both types of booking platforms is not strict. Both have contributed to the rapid growth in tourism before the Covid-19 pandemic by bringing together accommodation providers and potential guests, which should in principle benefit both groups. Most online platforms present themselves as mere intermediaries between the providers and the recipients of accommodation services and the platforms’ terms and conditions contain express provisions to that effect.2 However, the largest platforms are much more than passive facilitators as they determine the terms and conditions of the service, influence the price, and manage the payment service, often charging a processing fee.3 The dominant role of a limited number of large platforms in the tourist sector also has downsides. If most transactions between consumers and accommodation providers are concluded through these platforms, this reinforces their position as gatekeepers and potentially strengthens existing barriers to market entry. The European Commission has argued that anti-competitive behaviour of dominant online platforms could lead to inefficient results in the digital sector to the detriment of European consumers.4 For this reason, it has proposed new ex-ante rules for gatekeeper platforms in the Digital Markets Act that could also affect the operation of the leading accommodation booking platform. 2 Vlahek and Damjan, 2018, p. 123. 3 De Franceschi, 2018, p. 1. 4 Hučková and Semanová, 2022, pp. 510-511.