Booking.com says EU plans to regulate it as a “gatekeeper” in the hotels market will give an advantage to foreign rivals and hurt Europe’s tech industry.
Brussels is preparing legislation to curb the market dominance of big technology firms, which includes plans to impose more stringent rules on up to 20 of the largest companies.
Glenn Fogel, Booking.com chief executive, told the Financial Times it was “shocking” that regulators were considering criteria that would make the online giant subject to tougher regulations aimed at helping smaller rivals thrive.
“We are one of the very, very, very few tech successes in Europe,” he said. “Let’s be obvious and blatant about this. And our government regulator wants to handcuff us.”
More onerous rules would, he said, “hobble” Dutch firm Booking.com, which has global revenues of $15bn, and potentially benefit rivals such as US-based Expedia and China’s Ctrip. “European companies will suffer,” he added.
The EU does not plan to single out individual entities, fearing legal challenges over unfair targeting, the FT reported. But the newspaper claimed officials privately say they are ‘devising measures that would hit up to 20 tech giants’.
It said governments including France and the Netherlands support greater EU powers to curb big tech, including options such as structural separation of companies or even exclusion from the single market.
EU officials have said Booking.com is likely to be captured in the measures as a market “gatekeeper” alongside US giants such as Google and Amazon. The inclusion of European tech groups could help deflect criticism that the rules are aimed squarely at curbing the power of Silicon Valley.
Fogel said the prospect of Booking.com being labelled a gatekeeper was “crazy”, saying that only 13% of hotel revenues in Europe come from the site. “That means 87% of transactions are being done somewhere else,” he added. “That sounds like a lot of choice.”
However, Robin Rossmann, managing director at hotel industry data group STR, told the FT that Booking.com and Expedia dominated the market, and that the former was stronger in Europe.
“Ultimately, OTAs are better placed to market hotel rooms at discount rates,” he said, adding that there needed to be a focus on “fair practices” in the way that the big platforms operated.