Thousands of British travellers face paying twice for their holiday hotels after a prominent online website, Clever-Hotels.com, went bust.
Clever-Hotels.com was owned by a company called Navelar GmbH, based in the German city of Hamburg. The firm has emailed customers holding confirmed reservations to say: "The companies, through which Navelar has booked hotel rooms for its customers, have announced this afternoon that they will cancel all bookings of Navelar".
Clever-Hotels.com was one of many competing websites whose business model is based on securing a prominent position on price-comparison sites and in using search-engine optimisation to obtain a good placement on Google searches.
The company used Lao Tzu's quote, "A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step," suggesting travellers should "Start here: Clever-Hotels.com". It claimed to provide "Worldwide hotel rates at the best possible price", though research carried out by The Independent earlier this year suggested that cheaper deals could be obtained by booking direct with the hotel than through Clever-Hotels.com.
The rooms were not supplied directly by Clever-hotels.com but through hotel wholesalers. It appears that the holding company was forced into administration when it failed to make payments due on bookings. Guests already staying in rooms booked through Clever-Hotels.com, and those about to check-in, are being asked to pay again.
Customers who paid with credit and debit cards are likely to be able to reclaim the money through the card issuer, though this could take some time. Some people paid by bank transfer, a form of payment that offers no such protection. Purchasers are unsecured creditors, and will have to wait until later in the year to see if any of their lost funds can be recovered.
Many of the deals were found through Trivago, another German website. Richard Price tweeted: "First time using #trivago and got scanned by some random German company".
Trivago is majority owned by Expedia, which also owns Hotels.com and Venere.com. Its terms exclude any liability when a provider goes bust: "Trivago at no time takes the role of a tour operator or travel agency". It adds: "Offers, in particular those related to the booking of hotels and trips or services or products related to them, are based on the databases and websites of external contracting parties. Trivago takes no liability for the degree of completion and accuracy of these offers."