Lori and Randy Strandlund opened their dream luxury hotel four years ago.
The Moon Water Lodge, located on the Malahat, boasts a breathtaking view of the Saanich Inlet. Soon after opening, thinking of ways to get more business, the Strandlunds researched online booking engines and had narrowed it down to Booking.com and Expedia, and ultimately decided Booking.com was the better fit.
In the summer of 2016, Lori said a customer drove from Sidney to book a room at the hotel because every time he tried to book it on Expedia, it said it was sold out, which he thought was a little strange.
So she started a file and searched for their hotel on Expedia. She said she found the same thing, all the rooms were sold out and the phone number listed redirected people to Expedia customer service staff.
“I didn’t think to check the website [Expedia] before because we didn’t use them,” Lori said.
The next day she called Expedia as a customer and tried to book a room at her own hotel. When customer service said there were no rooms available she tried many other dates where she knew there were openings, and customer service continued to say it was fully booked and insisted that there were other properties in the area to choose from, she said.
She then contacted Expedia administration, and they said there was a glitch in the system, and that they would fix it and “as far as we knew it was fixed,” Lori said. Eight months later, Moon Water conducted an evaluation of their presence online and Lori’s assistant found another Expedia listing that was once again claiming the Lodge was sold out.
Lori requested a meeting with the B.C. and area representative for Expedia. As compensation, the representative offered Lori a reduced commission on sales for a period of time, to which she countered asking for travel credit, but Expedia said they couldn’t offer that.
The issue was that Moon Water Lodge was not supposed to be on Expedia, but it had a placeholder for the site, and if people clicked on it, it potentially diverted the Lodge’s business elsewhere. Lori estimates that they have lost around $200,000 in revenue per year as a result of this listing.
She noted 70 per cent of their business comes from Booking.com with another 20 per cent through walk-in business and their own website.
She started digging for other possible companies that have encountered this and found a class action lawsuit in California against the travel company, but Moon Water’s case could not be included because it’s a Canadian company.
Expedia said in a statement that the California case was a different issue altogether from Moon Water’s. “This case [in California] involved a coding process that allowed hotels that had not completed contracting to be fully viewable and searchable on Expedia Group’s websites.”
Lori contacted a lawyer in Vancouver, who suggested there was definitely a case, but it would be a lot of work for Moon Water to find people in the same situation to put together a class action lawsuit, and recommended she join Expedia to gain that added revenue.
Lori said she and Randy took time to separate business and emotions and decided to take another look at signing on with Expedia. But she didn’t want to support a company that she felt was doing something wrong.
For the Strandlunds to do business with Expedia, Lori said her husband would want a public apology from the company and some kind of monetary settlement for what they’ve lost, and for Expedia to discontinue this business practice. Lori said she echoes Randy’s wishes and would want to be assured that the laws and accountability in Canada prevent Expedia from using companies that aren’t clients to drum up business to those who are clients.
Expedia said in a statement a placeholder site was created for Moon Water during the conversations about listing the property with Expedia Group, but neither Moon Water or the placeholder were made available on Expedia. Due to an issue with Expedia’s process Google’s web crawling tool found the placeholder site for Moon Water, causing it to appear in specific searches, but it doesn’t display room rates or availability for the Lodge.
“This is the first time we have seen this particular issue. We are currently working to fix the glitch so that the site cannot be viewed under any circumstances. We have also contacted Google to ensure that their search results are updated to not show this website in the future.”
Lori and Randy have received an outpouring of support from small business owners, customers and lawyers. She said the small businesses said they will not use the site, and lawyers have reached out saying they would provide legal services free of charge if Moon Water was to win a settlement.
Lori isn’t sure what lies ahead of them and their hotel, but she’s is thankful to the public for the support. “I feel like it’s going in the right direction,” she said.