The EU Commission has blocked Booking’s €1.6bn takeover of Swedish online travel agency Etraveli, citing competition concerns.
“Booking’s acquisition of Etraveli would strengthen Booking’s dominant position in the online travel agencies market and likely lead to higher costs for hotels and, possibly, consumers,” said Didier Reynders, Commissioner for Justice.
According to the Commission, Booking is already the leading online hotel agency in the EEA, accounting for a 60% share of the total market. Meanwhile, Etraveli is the number two provider of flight services.
The merger would, therefore, enable the travel giant to broaden its travel services ecosystem, increase traffic on its platforms, and enhance its network effect. As a result, Booking could further boost its dominant position in the hotel industry and, ultimately, make market entry or expansion more challenging for competitors.
The EU regulator found Booking’s proposed remedy “not sufficiently comprehensive and effective,” failing to fully address the identified competition concerns. Specifically, the company suggested a choice screen on the flight check-out page, displaying hotel options from competing providers. The Commission claims that the solution would still favour Booking.
“Our decision to block the merger means that European hotels and travellers will not be further limited in the options available to offer their services and book their trips. This also means that the drive for competitive prices and innovation will be preserved in this important part of the travel industry,” Reynders added.
In response, the travel giant announced its intention to appeal. “The European Commission’s decision not only departs from settled law and precedent, but it deprives consumers of travel options that they are entitled to have,” said Glenn Fogel, Booking Holdings’ CEO.
The company noted that it will continue working together with Etraveli, extending their partnership through 2028.
The takeover’s veto comes less than a month after the EU announced the six tech giants that will face the strictest set of its new digital market rules, known as the DMA. While Booking was absent from the list, the Commission’s latest antitrust decision indicates that the bloc’s aim to ensure a fair digital economy will go beyond traditional big tech.