On the Beach has been lambasted for “shady” and “provocative” marketing tactics that name and undermine its competitors to boost its ranking in search results.
The OTA has created pages on its website directly comparing itself to brands including Olympic Holidays, Tui and First Choice.
It says “when you compare On the Beach to Olympic Holidays, there’s really no competition”, going on to add “and here’s the important bit – On the Beach is often cheaper”.
Olympic Holidays said some content posted by On the Beach was incorrect, such as listing Madeira as part of the Azores. Head of marketing Carl Catterall said: “We work hard, play fair and would expect the same of our competitors.”
On its Tui page, On the Beach says “just like Tui, everything we do is centred on you”, adding “you’ll find these holidays at cheaper prices”.
Aito director Noel Josephides said On the Beach’s tactic breaches an “unwritten rule” that fellow operators don’t criticise each other. He added: “All this does is create a price war, which is the last thing we want in the industry.”
Gemma Antrobus, chairman of Aito Specialist Travel Agents, said the tactics were “shady” but it was “understandable” that On the Beach would employ them to differentiate. “Naming competitors is not how it’s normally done, but someone was going to do it in this price-driven market,” she said.
Charlotte Lamp Davies, of travel marketing consultancy A Bright Approach, said the “provocative” tactic was being used to improve On the Beach’s web traffic from searches of its competitors’ names. She said: “It’s not what you’d expect the big boys to do, but within their rights.”
The Advertising Standards Authority’s code permits comparative advertising but it “must not discredit or denigrate another product”. It says comparisons must objectively compare one or more features, which may include price.
On the Beach said it regularly checks the pages, uploaded in March, “to ensure they provide like-for-like or better value than competitors”. A spokesman added: “These pages are designed to showcase some of the great hotels on offer that are often available at a lower price than through some other holiday retailers.”
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