In recent years, the demand for travel and Internet usage have both expanded with rising affluence of people around the world. Hence, it is natural that the Internet has evolved to become a very useful search tool that can be used to plan overseas trips, especially with the ready availability of information online.One area of overseas trip planning that is becoming increasingly popular is researching about the different hotels available and making bookings online through the use of online travel agents’ and hotels’ websites. These hotel online booking websites have empowered travelers to make informed decisions about hotel bookings by having all the information that they need and the means of direct hotel booking at their fingertips. Let us explore how these websites are helping the online consumer make the right hotel booking decisions.Dawn of the Internet – Power to the online consumerIn the past, researching about hotels was a tedious process that relied almost exclusively on traditional channels including broadcast media like television and printed media in the form of brochures and pamphlets. The potential guest also has to telephone or write to the hotel or visit a physical travel agent to find out more about room availability and room rates. It was also very difficult to find out if the hotel would be well-maintained and able to provide them with a comfortable stay until they actually stay there. This is because it was easy for the hotels or travel agents to hide any unsavory aspects of the rooms or facilities from unsuspecting guests.However, the Internet has opened many platforms for the free exchange of ideas and information, including both factual information about the hotels as well as feedback from past guests on forums and hotel review websites. Thus, the online consumer has been empowered to make informed decisions about hotel bookings. He can also place his booking directly on online reservation websites without much hassle, thus freeing more time to prepare for his trip. He can even stand to enjoy cost savings by finding out the best deals through websites that specialize in searching for the best deals for each hotel.Online consumer benefits from online travel agents’ information sharingThe sharing of hotel information between the hotels and the online travel agents makes this information readily available to the online consumer on the latter. These websites are a one-stop shop for these consumers as they can browse different hotels’ room rates, facilities, amenities and services, compare prices and make their bookings at a single website, thus saving lots of time and effort. Hence, all parties stand to gain as the hotels gain publicity and bookings, the online travel agents receive commission payments for bookings done through their website, and the online consumer has a large database of hotel information at his fingertips. Even the smaller online travel websites are not left out as the availability of a single database of information means that all agents, large and small, are able to supply online consumers with such information and in turn, the power to make informed booking decisions. The ready availability of this information means that some online travel agents may liaise with the hotels to obtain special rates to compete amongst themselves for customers, which can only be good for the online consumer.Unique booking experience through hotels’ own booking websitesIn this information age which promotes choice, there is another alternative for the online consumer to place a hotel reservation online – through the hotels’ websites themselves. Hotel websites which have a booking engine enabled allow guests to make real-time online bookings and in addition, provide a unique browsing experience to the online consumer through the use of stylized design and detailed content which cannot be found on intermediary websites. This would help to build up and reinforce brand loyalty which enables these hotels to retain its customers over a sustained period of time. Furthermore, the online consumer is much clearer about the terms, policies and rates by booking directly with the website as such information might not be communicated clearly or comprehensively by intermediary websites.Empowering yourself to make the right hotel booking decisionsIt is often easy to be lost amongst the plethora of websites that have a hotel online booking function when searching for one that empowers you to make an accurate and informed hotel booking decision. You might be looking for a website that is easy to use, supplies you with adequate information that is needed to make the right decision and offers you the best deals.
In their role as consumers, ordinary EU citizens are key players in the Union’s new frontier-free single market. The Union has in fact incorporated, as the basis of its consumer policy, the protection of the five fundamental rights which lie at the heart of national policies. These are:1. The protection of consumers’ health and safetyOnly products which will not endanger health or safety may be put on the market. This means setting safety requirements, providing full information about potential risks, and protecting consumers against physical injury.2. The protection of consumers’ economic interestsThere is for example a general ban on misleading advertising and unfair terms in contracts with consumers.3. Consumer rights to information and educationConsumers need to be put in a position where they can make an informed choice among goods and services offered. This includes objective information on the features and price of the items available. Consumers also require proper information about their efficient and safe use.4. The right to redressConsumers have the right to receive advice and help when seeking redress for faulty products or for injury or damage resulting from the use of goods and services. There need to be simple, affordable and rapid procedures for settling complaints and claims.5. Consumer representation and participationRepresentatives of consumers need to be present in decision-taking procedures on issues of concern to them at local, national or EU level. At Union level, this covers not only specific consumer issues but also other relevant policy areas like food laws, transport, competition policy, financial services, and environment.When the Community (the former name of the European Union) adopted its first consumer program in 1975, it focused on the practical application of the five principles. The first result was a number of directives which were adopted over the next 10 years covering among other things the safety of cosmetic products, the labeling of foodstuff, misleading advertising, consumer rights in door-step selling, product liability and the provision of consumer credit. In addition to its program of legislation on consumer protection, the Union took steps to make sure the interests of consumers are taken into account at local and EU level. It has supported the development of national consumer organizations and five major EU-wide organizations with consumer interests.These are:- The European Consumer’s Organization (BEUC),- The Confederation of Family Organizations in the European Union (Coface),- The European Community of Consumer Cooperatives (Eurocoop),- The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC),- And The European Interregional Institute for Consumer Affairs (EIICA)Internally, the European Commission created an independent Consumer Policy Service in 1989 in order to give more authority and a higher profile to the implementation of consumer policy.According to the data of 1991, nearly 64% of Community GDP is devoted to private consumption, the highest proportion being 70.3% in Greece and the lowest52.5% in Denmark (63.4% in UK). The remainder of the GDP is devoted mainly to financing investments and the collective consumption of general government.On average, Europeans devote 20% of their ‘consumption’ budget to food (ranging from 37.8% in Greece to 16.6% in Germany, 21.5% in the UK) whereas 17.2% covers housing expenditure (27.8% in Denmark as against 10.3% in Portugal, 18.5% in the UK). There are also marked disparities in spending on leisure and education (4.3% in Luxembourg compared with 10.5% in Ireland, with a UK average of 9.7%).There is plenty to be done, even after the legislative program set out in the Maastricht Treaty on European Union is completed. The single market, like any other, needs to balance the interests of buyers and sellers if it is to operate efficiently. This means not only fixing additional rules for consumer protection but also ensuring that existing ones are applied correctly (which is not always the case).