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TOURISM

What will Switzerland new rules for hotel booking platforms mean for travellers?

Hotel booking platforms will face certain restrictions in Switzerland and hotel websites will be able to undercut prices and conditions after a vote in parliament. What does this mean for you?

A Swiss airlines flight over the Swiss Alps. Photo by Obed Tewes on Unsplash

Switzerland’s Parliament has approved restrictions on online reservation platforms, including Booking.com, Hotels.com and others, looking to protect the Swiss hotel sector.

The new rules ban the so-called “parity clauses” between hotels and booking platforms. This means that hotel websites will be allowed to offer better prices and conditions than those on aggregator websites like Booking.com.

The rule was much debated, and representatives of the booking platforms have come out against it, saying the move was “shortsighted” and did not benefit the sector. However, the hotel association HotellerieSuisse disagrees, stating the new rules give hotels “their entrepreneurial freedom back”.

What are these parity clauses?

Parity clauses are standard in many online reservation platforms and are particularly famous for Booking.com. These websites are extremely popular and have a significant market share, meaning that most travellers book through them instead of the official hotel websites.

READ ALSO: Why Switzerland won’t introduce €9 rail tickets like in Germany

In order to be featured in these “hotel Googles”, the establishments sign a contract with the website that dictates things like the amount of commission they will pay for the platform. So every time you book a hotel on Booking.com or Trivago, a percentage of the price goes to the website, not the hotel.

This is how they make money, and though some associations complain that fees have been getting way too high, those will remain the same.

The Swiss government saw an issue with the “parity clauses”, which, according to legislators, hurt competition.

READ ALSO: Six no-gimmick websites that help you save money in Switzerland

These contract clauses force hotels to always be at least in parity with prices and offer on booking websites. This means that they cannot offer cheaper stays or perks like complimentary breakfast to people booking directly on their website – the offer needs to be on par with the one on the booking platform.

What is changing then?

The Swiss Parliament voted to ban those clauses, saying they hurt competition. Hotels will then be allowed to have different (cheaper) offers and services advertised on their websites.

The ban is enshrined in a new Federal Act against Unfair Competition article.

“Today, hoteliers and hoteliers can finally breathe a sigh of relief. In recent years, they have invested significantly in digitization and expanded their direct booking offer, which will now pay off”, said HotellerieSuisse.

READ ALSO: Five beautiful Swiss villages just a short trip from Geneva

“As soon as the law comes into force, they can offer their guests the best prices on their own portal. In addition to the price, they also get their entrepreneurial freedom back via conditions and availability. They can thus make a differentiated offer.”

How do travellers benefit?

People looking for hotels will be able to have more offers. They can search online and check-in many places for different prices and booking conditions.

“It is always an advantage for customers when the competition takes place. Hoteliers must have sovereignty over all rates. Only in this way can they make better offers than the booking platforms,” said Andreas Züllig, President of HotellerieSuisse.

READ ALSO: Which flights have SWISS airlines cut ahead of the summer season?

Even if you find a hotel using a booking platform, it will be worth checking out online and seeing if fees and offers on the actual website are different – perhaps better.

With hotels looking to attract more people to book on their website, where they won’t need to pay commissions and fees, chances are that many will take advantage of the parity clause ban.

How is it in other countries?

In many countries, the parity clause still stands, and hotels are forced to keep prices equal or higher than those on the booking platforms.

READ ALSO: Switzerland proposes travellers pay for Covid boosters

However, many Swiss neighbours, including France, Italy and Austria, have already banned the clause. In Germany, court rulings after lawsuits also forbid platforms to force parity from their hotel partners.

“The Parliament’s decision, therefore, also eliminates a location disadvantage of the Swiss hotel industry and makes Switzerland a tourism location more competitive in an international context.”, added HotellerieSuisse.

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For members

TRAIN TRAVEL

Five European cities you can reach from Zurich in less than five hours by train

Switzerland is a beautiful country, but it also has a great location right in the centre of Europe, making it an ideal starting point for train travel. Here are five destinations you can reach in less than five hours from Zurich.

Five European cities you can reach from Zurich in less than five hours by train

As summer is still in full swing and there are many vacation days (or free weekends) to enjoy the sunny weather, it’s not the wrong time to do some travelling. Switzerland is a beautiful country, but it’s also centrally located in Europe. This means that many major European cities are reachable in just a few hours.

If you are located in Zurich, for example, then you are very near Germany, France, Italy, Liechtenstein and Austria. In less than five hours, visiting beautiful cities in these five countries is possible by taking a comfortable train ride.

So, select your final destination, get your ticket, and enjoy the ride.

READ ALSO: Switzerland’s ten most beautiful villages you have to visit

From Zurich to Strasbourg

It will take you just about 2 hours and 30 minutes (including time to stop and change trains in Basel) to get from Zurich’s mains station to the beautiful and historical city of Strasbourg, in northeast France.

Prices vary depending on several factors, but we found one-way tickets for just around CHF 23 on a Friday.

From Zurich to Munich

The capital of Bavaria can be reached from Zurich’s central station on a direct train in just 3 hours 30 minutes, allowing for short stays.

Munich may seem quite far away on a map, but the fast trains without stopovers actually make the journey quick and pleasant. We found one-way tickets for around CHF 70 on a Friday trip.

From Zurich to Vaduz

The capital of Liechtenstein is easy to reach in less than 2 hours from the Zurich central station. In fact, some journeys will take just about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

The lovely town bordering Switzerland has many tourist attractions, from its pedestrian historical centre to castles and parks. Train ticket prices always vary, but we found tickets for a one-way journey on a Friday costing CHF 20.

READ ALSO: Travel: What are the best night train routes to and from Switzerland?

From Zurich to Milan

Depending on the train you take, you can get from Zurich to Italy’s fashion capital in three to four hours with a direct train.

Before 2016, when the Gotthard Base Tunnel was opened to rail traffic, a trip from Zurich to Milan took an hour longer. It’s possible to find tickets for about CHF 70 for a one-way trip on a Friday.

From Zurich to Innsbruck

From Zurich, it is possible to hop on a direct train and, in just over 3 hours and 30 minutes, arrive in the beautiful town of Innsbruck, in the mountains of Tyrol.

Ticket costs vary, but we found tickets for a relatively short-notice one-way trip on a Friday (without discounts) for CHF 84.

READ ALSO: Five beautiful Swiss villages located near Alpine lakes

Cost:

Fares depend on several factors, such as time of the day and day of the week when you travel.

While a rock-bottom cheap fare may be available one day in the morning, it won’t necessarily be offered the next day (or week) in the afternoon, or vice-versa.

Prices also depend on whether you are entitled to any discounts and which wagon you choose.

If you are interested in travelling farther afield, including with night trains, or if you are in other Swiss cities, these articles provide more information:

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