A majority of parliament wants to restrict online reservation platforms in a bid to protect the Swiss hotel sector.
In line with the Senate, the House of Representatives on Monday overwhelmingly approved a proposal demanding that Swiss hotels will be allowed to offer lower prices for their accommodation on their websites than online travel fare aggregators, including Booking.com.
The government, which came out against the motion, now has to submit a bill which will be discussed in parliament at a later stage.
During the debate on Monday, supporters from the left and the right of the political spectrum said current laws put Swiss hotels at a disadvantage against dominant market players.
Hotels paid commissions of up to CHF150 million ($156 million) annually to such booking platforms, committee speaker Sylvia Flückiger said. Switzerland’s four neighbouring countries, - France, Germany, Italy and Austria - were about to, or had indeed already, banned such online platforms it was argued.
However, speaking on behalf of the opponents of restrictions, Kathrin Bertschy of the centrist Liberal Greens, said all sides benefited from the online business model. They warned against interfering in the free market, saying there were enough possibilities to sidestep the conditions set by booking platforms.
Economics Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann said it made no sense trying to oppose digitalisation and ignoring efforts by the Swiss competition authorities, investigating allegations of abusive online business practices. “Let the Competition Commissionexternal link do its job,” he said.
He warned in vain that parliament would send a “wrong signal” and put a risk jobs in Switzerland, if it accepted the motion.
The move comes less than a week after the Federal Price Watchdog announced it initiated proceedings against Booking.com over suspected abusive commissions demanded from hoteliers.
In a first reaction, the United States company on Monday deplored the parliamentary decision, saying price transparency in the hotel sector would suffer and consumers paid higher prices as a result.
“Small and medium-sized hotels would be hit particularly hard,” Booking.com said in statement. It plans to “follow closely” discussions about a legal amendment and fight for fair competition.
Booking.com also rejected allegations of abusing a dominant position in the market.