International Journal of Tourism, Travel and Hospitality Law 2023

THE NEW ONLINE PLATFORM RULES Additionally, the new stricter rules on the liability of the largest platforms for illegal content under the proposed Digital Services Act might expose short-term rental platforms to legal liability in cases where such offerings fall foul of the local regulations on the commercial use of residential properties. The paper will have a look at whether and how the new online platform rules currently discussed in the European Parliament will address the often-mentioned misgivings against online accommodation booking services. 2 THE DISRUPTIVE EFFECT OF ONLINE BOOKING SERVICES 2.1 Online travel agents Online travel agents such as differ from traditional travel agents not so much by the content of their service but mostly due to the fact that they are much more concentrated as a single online platform can cover the entire world. HOTREC’s hotel distribution study shows that between 2013 and 2019, the market shares of online travel agents have steadily increased in the European hotel sector from 19.7% in 2013 to 29.9% in 2019. At the same time, the share of direct bookings has decreased across Europe by over 10 percentage points from 57.6% in 2013 to 45.5% in 2019. The three main online travel agents are Booking Holding, Expedia Group and HRS Group, out of which is by far the most influential player, with a share of 68.4% in the online travel agent market.5 The majority of tourist accommodation providers offer their inventory via online travel agents, although the share of providers listed on specific platforms varies between countries. Most hotels engage in multi-homing, meaning that they are listed on more than one online travel agent’s platform.6 From the consumers’ perspective, one of the main benefits of online travel agents is that a single platform gives them the possibility to compare the offers of different hotels and thus increases their choice. Consumer feedback and reviews concerning each accommodation are also helpful in making the choice. Finally, the platform makes it easy to make a reservation as it stores the user’s address, payment information and preferences. Nevertheless, competition authorities have been concerned, that the dominant platforms might misuse 5 HOTREC, 2022. 6 VVA and LE Europe, 2022, p. 15.