On December 10, 2019, the French Competition Authority (“FCA”) decided not to continue its investigation into hotel booking platforms Expedia and HRS, initiated in 2013 after complaints from French hotel unions and the Accor group regarding certain clauses imposed by the platforms.
The FCA’s investigation looked into practices whereby Booking.com, Expedia and HRS subjected hotels to allegedly anticompetitive “parity” clauses regarding prices, room availability and commercial terms.
Under these clauses, hotels were required to make offers to these platforms that were at least as favourable as those offered through competing online platforms, travel agencies and hotels themselves. Parity clauses can be “wide”, if they restrict the ability of hotels to offer better terms on other sale channels, or “narrow” if they prevent hotels from offering better terms on their own websites.
Several competition authorities consider that parity clauses lead to reduced price competition between booking platforms and to the exclusion of potential new entrants from the market. Narrow parity clauses are sometimes considered justified to prevent hotels from free-riding on the platforms’ services.
In 2015, the FCA accepted commitments from Booking.com which included heavy restrictions on the use of parity clauses. A few months later, France modified Article L311-5-1 of the French Tourism Code to guarantee the freedom of hospitality operators to offer discounts and price advantages by prohibiting both wide and narrow price parity clauses.
In parallel, French courts also took issue with parity clauses and imposed fines on Booking.com (in 2015) and Expedia (in 2017) while ordering them to remove price and availability parity clauses from their contracts with hotels.
The FCA’s Decision
The FCA considered that the parity clauses at issue constituted a practice that has been dealt with by other national competition authorities. In Sweden, Italy, Greece, Poland and the UK, the authorities decided to close the case against Expedia further to its commitment to remove the parity clauses in its contracts with hotels across the EEA for five years from August 1, 2015.
According to Article L. 462-8 of the French Commercial Code, which implements Article 13 of Regulation 1/2003, the FCA can decline its jurisdiction when a complaint about a potentially anticompetitive practice has already been handled by the European Commission or another national competition authority.
In addition, the FCA noted that the European online booking sector has evolved since the beginning of the investigation, as shown by an increased price differentiation in the wake of the Booking.com commitments and the satisfaction expressed by hotels with the statutory prohibition of price parity clauses in France. The FCA also pointed to the smaller presence in France of Expedia and HRS compared to Booking.com.
Based on the foregoing, the FCA decided to reject the hotel unions’ complaint and close its investigation.
 Decision of the French Competition Authority of December 10, 2019, No. 19-D-23.
 Decision of the French Competition Authority of April 21, 2015, No. 15-D-06, paras. 115 et seq. The FCA jointly conducted its investigation with competition authorities in Italy and Sweden, which accepted similar commitments, and with the assistance of the European Commission. Separately, later in 2015, Ireland also accepted commitments from Booking.com regarding parity clauses.
 Law No. 2015-990, August 6, 2015, Article 133. To date, Austria, Belgium, Italy and Switzerland have passed similar legislation.
 Paris Tribunal of Commerce, March 24, 2015, No. 2014/027403; Paris Court of Appeal, September 15, 2015, No. 15/07435; Paris Court of Appeal, June 21, 2017, No. 15/18784.