Tech News : Booking.com Becomes “Gatekeeper”

Online travel marketplace, Booking.com, has been designated a ‘gatekeeper’ company by the EU under its new Digital Markets Act (DMA) competition law, meaning that Booking.com now has six months to comply.

Gatekeepers? 

Under the EU’s new Digital Markets Act (DMA), ‘gatekeepers’ are large digital platforms that play a pivotal role in the digital economy. They are judged as acting as intermediaries between businesses and users, i.e. controlling key ‘gateways’ through which businesses reach consumers. The DMA, which is aimed at tackling monopolising practices and ensuring fair and open digital markets, sets specific criteria to identify these gatekeepers and imposes obligations and prohibitions on them to prevent anti-competitive practices.

Why Booking.com? 

According to the DMA rules, ‘gatekeepers’ are companies within the EU with more than 45 million monthly end users, more than 10,000 business users per year, and a market cap of at least €75bn.

It seems, therefore, that following a self-assessment (submitted on March 1), the EC has decided that the Booking.com travel platform meets the DMA thresholds and, therefore, is now considered to be an “important gateway between businesses and consumers.” 

Thierry Bretton, EU Commissioner for Internal Market, has been reported as saying: “Booking is an important player in the European tourism ecosystem and is now also a designated gatekeeper.” 

What Does This Mean For Booking.com? 

As a gatekeeper, Booking.com now faces specific obligations under the DMA to ensure fair competition and prevent anti-competitive practices. These include:

– Data usage restrictions. Booking.com cannot, for example, use data from business users (e.g. hotels) to compete against them.

– Interoperability. It must allow third parties to interoperate with its services, providing necessary technical access.

– Advertising transparency. Booking.com must offer advertisers and publishers access to performance measurement tools for independent ad verification.

– An anti-tying and bundling obligation means no additional services as a condition for accessing its platform.

– Access to data. Booking.com must provide business users with access to the data they generate on the platform.

– Fair treatment. The company can’t favour its own services or products in search rankings over third-party offerings.

Practical Implications 

There are also some practical implications for Booking.com, including:

– Operational adjustments which include significant changes to internal operations, data management, and platform functionalities.

– Increased transparency, e.g. enhanced transparency in ranking, data usage, and advertising charges.

– Additional legal, administrative, and technological expenses to ensure compliance.

– A change to its competitive landscape as the restrictions under the DMA may reduce competitive advantages, levelling the playing field for smaller competitors.

– Increased regulatory scrutiny such as monitoring plus potential penalties from the European Commission for non-compliance.

What Happens If It Doesn’t Comply? 

Booking.com now has 6 months to comply but if it doesn’t, it could be facing eye-watering fines of up to 10 per cent of its total worldwide annual turnover, increasing to 20 per cent for repeat offences. Also, it could face periodic penalties up to 5 per cent of its average daily turnover for specific non-compliance issues. To put this in perspective, Booking.com (as part of Booking Holdings) reported a total worldwide turnover of $21.3 billion in 2023.

It’s understood that Booking.com and other gatekeepers have already started implementing measures to comply with their gatekeeper obligations under the DMA and are required to submit detailed compliance reports to the European Commission. However, other companies, like ByteDance (TikTok’s owner) and Meta, have contested their gatekeeper designations

Who Are The Other Gatekeepers? 

In addition to the aforementioned ByteDance, Meta, and now Booking.com, other well-known gatekeepers include (not surprisingly) Alphabet (Google), Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft.

Following X’s claim (submitted on 1 March 2024) that, despite meeting the thresholds, it doesn’t qualify as an important gateway between businesses and consumers, it’s understood that the European Commission has opened a market investigation to further assess X’s rebuttal.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

The designation of Booking.com as a gatekeeper under the EU’s Digital Markets Act (DMA) represents another significant shift in the regulatory landscape for large digital platforms. For Booking.com, this means it must adhere to stringent new rules aimed at ensuring fair competition and preventing the misuse of its market power. This could, however, involve substantial operational adjustments.

For competitors and markets, the DMA’s enforcement may lead to a more balanced competitive environment. Smaller businesses/competitors and new entrants may, for example, find it easier to compete if the ‘gatekeepers’ like Booking.com are restricted from engaging in the many possible anti-competitive practices, e.g. data misuse and unfair bundling of services. This could, of course, foster greater innovation and diversity in the market, as barriers to entry are lowered and smaller companies gain more opportunities to attract customers.

Consumers are also likely to benefit from the DMA’s regulations. For example, with increased transparency in how services are ranked and advertised, they may be able to make more informed choices. The DMA’s requirement for fair treatment and data access may mean that consumers see a wider variety of options and potentially lower prices as competition increases. Also, enhanced data protection measures could help safeguard consumer information, addressing privacy concerns that have become increasingly prominent in the digital age.

Overall, the implementation of the DMA and the compliance efforts by gatekeepers like Booking.com may signal a transformative period for digital markets. UK businesses operating within these markets should prepare for changes in competitive dynamics and be ready to leverage new opportunities that arise from a potentially more equitable digital ecosystem.

Tech News : Google Flights Can Show Cheapest Times To Book

With last-minute holidays on people’s minds (as well as current delays and disruption) Google has announced a new money-saving feature for Google Flights which shows users the cheapest time to book.

What Is Google Flights? 

Google Flights, introduced back in 2011, is Google’s online flight booking search service which allows users to search for airline fares, book flights, and compare different flight and ticketing options. The service works by aggregating data from multiple airlines, booking agencies, and other online flight services and redirects customers to the airline’s website or a third-party booking site to complete the purchase.

New Feature 

Google says the new feature offers users an upgraded insight to help answer the question “Is it better to book now or wait for lower prices to come along?” As a supplement to Google Travel’s existing price tracking alerts and price guarantee option, the new feature can show users when prices have typically been lowest to book their chosen dates and destination (for searches with reliable trend data).

For example, the new insights feature can tell users that the cheapest time to book similar trips is usually two months before departure, and if they’re currently in that “sweet spot.” Also, for example, the new feature could show users that prices for a particular destination usually drop closer to take-off, which means users can see that that they could benefit by waiting before booking.

In short, the insights offered by the new feature could help Google Travel users save money and can make a decision with a greater sense of confidence, based on information they didn’t have before. This could also save users time in shopping around and hassle in deliberating.

Adds To The Other Money-Saving Features 

The new money saving insights supplement the existing ones on Google Travel, including:

– The ‘Price Tracking’ feature, introduced in 2017, which enables users to set up tracking for flights on specific dates so they can be automatically notified if flight prices drop significantly. Also, users can set price tracking for “Any dates” to receive emails about deals anytime in the next three to six months.

– The ‘Price Guarantee’ badge feature, introduced in April this year, and part of a US pilot, which marks some flight results with a price guarantee badge, indicating that Google Travel is “especially confident” that the price shown won’t get any lower before departure. When users book a flight marked with the guarantee badge, Google Travel monitors the price every day before take-off, and if the price does go down, users are paid the difference via Google Pay.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

Flight prices in the UK have increased a massive18 per cent (Kayak) from last year, partly due to rising oil prices, rising fuel import prices due to the war in Ukraine, rising maintenance costs and more, making it much more difficult to find cheap flights. Coupled with a cost of living crisis, this has made it more important than ever for consumers to shop around. However, people now have access to more price comparison services to help. For example, Google Travel has many flight comparison competitors in the UK, arguably better known than Google’s service, such as Expedia, TravelSupermarket, Opodo, Lastminute.com, Booking.com, Sky Scanner, Kayak, Cheapflights, and more. The existing price-related features and new price insight feature for Google Travel are, therefore, both likely to be helpful to consumers and companies offering lower flights as well as helping Google to compete in a busy market where Google has many strong competitors in different countries.

Insights like these are a way to add value and tie-in with the Google Travel’s existing advantages, e.g. a clean/easy interface, integration with its other services (the globally popular Google Maps app), speed, no booking fees and reliability, and give Google a leg-up. Google also has the advantage of having access to a lot of data about what travel customers are searching for and trends, and being major player in the AI world, so these new features (and likely more to come), can draw upon Google’s existing assets and strengths to keep Google Travel competitive.

Featured Article : Tech Travel Trends

In this article, we take a look at a few examples of nascent travel and delivery options in action.

Many New And Innovative Options

With so many innovative technologically advanced (and green) transport, travel, and delivery products and systems now being used in the real world, let’s update ourselves on what’s happening and what the near future could soon look like … coming soon to a city near you.

Vertical Take-Off Urban Air Taxi Test Successful 

A full-scale, remote controlled prototype of Bristol-based startup Vertical Aerospace’s vertical take-off VX4 air taxi recently completed its first untethered flight successfully. The aircraft, which is intended for use as a minimal noise and zero operating emissions taxi can transport up to four passengers, over distances of up to 100 miles and achieve a cruising speed of 150 miles per hour.  The VX4 can also be used as a medivac (medical evacuation) or cargo plane. The company says the VX4 air taxi, which is battery-powered and has electric motors mounted on movable nacelles is capable of flying from London’s Heathrow Airport to Canary Wharf in just 13 seconds!

Back in May, Vertical Aerospace reported that South Korea’s leading mobility firm Kakao Mobility had pre-ordered up to 50 of the VX4 aircraft. Kakao Mobility runs South Korea’s most popular taxi-hailing app, Kakao T, providing taxi-hailing, designated driver booking, parking space search, and Kakao Navi app. Stephen Fitzpatrick, Vertical’s Founder and CEO, said: “With its over 30 million registered users, Kakao Mobility is the go-to choice to ‘hail a ride’ and with our partnership, we look forward to people across South Korea being able to fly in a VX4 in the years to come.” 

Europe’s First Driverless Robots Take To The Road In Lithuania 

A collaboration between Estonia-based startup Clevon and Lithuanian delivery platform LastMile has seen Europe’s first small fleet of (three) driverless robots take to public roads in Estonia’s capital city of Vilnius. The battery powered delivery robots, known as Autonomous Robot Carriers (ARCs), look a little like a cross between a golf buggy and a tiny truck and are already being used to deliver groceries from the IKI supermarket store on Mindaugas Street to shoppers in the city centre.  The ARCs have different size and lockable compartments for smaller and larger online grocery orders and the fleet can deliver seven customer orders in a single run.  The many benefits of the ARCs include zero CO2 emissions, reducing ‘last-mile’ labour costs by 80-90 per cent, while their small size means they can quickly (and safely) navigate city centre streets – great for historic cities with old-town (i.e. small) street areas.

First Biometric Check-In Tunnel Opens at St Pancras For Eurostar 

The first-ever biometric ‘Smartcheck’ corridor for train travel has opened Eurostar’s London terminal in St Pancras station. The contactless check-in tunnel, developed by UK tech firm iProov, acts as a replacement for ticket gates and manual border checks and uses a facial verification checkpoint, enabling passengers to walk straight through the tunnel rather than queue and wait. The SmartCheck solution behind iProov’s tunnel incorporates iProov’s Biometric Solution Suite with Biometric checkpoint, coupled with Entrust’s Identity Verification as a Service (IDVaaS) technology for identity orchestration and digital travel credential (DTC) management.

Andrew Bud (founder and CEO of iProov) said of the new high-tech tunnel: “The rollout of SmartCheck in Eurostar’s Business Premier check-in at London St Pancras is significant because it clearly demonstrates how facial biometric technology can be used to manage border control in a smarter and more efficient way, to benefit both organisations and passengers at scale. By creating a biometric corridor, we are moving security checks away from the station, saving precious time and space at the border, streamlining the boarding process to one that’s far faster, more convenient, less crowded and stressful, yet even more secure.” 

Popular Dutch e-Bike Maker’s Bankruptcy 

As in any market, it’s not all good news for all the players, even if they have funding and innovative products.

Dutch e-bike startup VanMoof, one of the most heavily funded e-bike startups in the world, has shocked owners by being declared bankrupt after 14 years. A tweet from one of the company’s founders, Taco Carlier, apologised to customers and employees, saying that the company had tried to secure investment and a buy-out from other companies but had failed to do both. The company had been making a loss on its e-bikes for years which some financial commentators have blamed on the high price of the bikes (2,000 euros each) and high costs to maintain and repair bikes while they were under warranty. Due to the need for custom parts and specialised software to operate the bikes, customers now find themselves in uncertain territory and it’s been reported that many customers have threatened to sue.

VanMoof, however, is one of many players in the growing e-bike market which was valued at SD 37.47 billion in 2022 and has been projected to grow from USD 43.32 billion this year to USD 119.72 billion by 2030.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

The promised future of driverless, electric vehicles such as the air taxi (soon to be operating in South Korea) and driverless trains in the UK (Thameslink ATO system), as well driverless delivery vehicles is now beginning in earnest. Many startups and more well-known established companies (e.g. Amazon) have trialled drones and driverless systems that have the benefits of zero-emissions (electric, battery powered), beating crowds and congestion while offering the efficiencies of robots and we are now starting to see them being approved and used on public roads and in the airspace above.

There are now exciting opportunities for many businesses in growing new markets related to these vehicles and in using them to add value, cut costs, and improve services in existing industries. Reducing congestion and emissions, while improving customer experiences, and offering them new and exciting and travel options (vertical taxis) and delivery options is definitely on the map. With a climate emergency, a growing population and advances in technology, reliance of fossil fuels (and a legacy of old transport and delivery ideas) is starting to be replaced gradually with a variety of new, greener, and more efficient alternatives that also offer commercial benefits to their operators.

Transport systems are now changing due to investment and large R&D spends and many innovative startups with products years in the making are now finally coming home to roost. The hope is that the changes will pay off environmentally, commercially, plus make travel and delivery more effective and give customers better experiences that match the expectations of this technically advanced future.

Doubtless, all of these concerns will require investment in managing all the data and security!