Swiss investigate possible 'abusive pricing' by Booking.com

GENEVA — A Swiss government agency said Tuesday it has opened an investigation into possible "abusive pricing" by the online travel reservations provider Booking.com.

The price watchdog agency said in a statement that it found evidence that the company may be charging "abusive high prices" to hotels that want to be included on their web listings. Stefan Meierhans, a price supervisor at the agency, said consumers and hotel guests were not affected directly.

The agency said it had reached out to the company, but that Booking.com was "not interested in an amicable solution," and "did not want to engage in negotiations with the price watchdog."

Under Swiss law, the agency, which protects consumer rights, has the authority to intervene and set market prices in cases where a company with dominant position is deemed to have set prices unfairly.

Booking.com, a subsidiary of U.S.-based Priceline Group, didn't immediately respond to e-mails from The Associated Press seeking comment.

"This procedure might end without a result, and it might end up with me fixing prices," Meierhans said. "Everything's open."

If the price watchdog does set the prices, the company could appeal through the Swiss administrative court and possibly the federal appeals court in Lausanne. The process could take many months.

Meierhans said Booking.com has a dominant position — estimated at about a 70- to 80-percent market share — among the online travel agency business in Switzerland.

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