Denny’s Daily Zinger: Google Fleeces the World

Third-party hotel booking sites can mislead consumers.

THIS is the situation: Customers search for a particular hotel and click on a link. They think they’ve landed on the official hotel website, but unknowingly they really have arrived at an unrelated site of a hotel booking company.

They’re promised great deals—and warned that rooms are going fast—but it turns out these so-called bargains are often worse than what’s offered directly by the hotel. Many people have discovered this practice the hard way …

“Debbie Greenspan tried to call a Marriott hotel directly and instead was connected to representatives from” —Alina Tugend, The New York Times

Alina Tugend’s story is a horror show.

[See the illustration in the media player at right.]

I entered “marriott marquis new york” into Google.

The first two listings are bogus, counterfeit Marriott ads designed to dupe consumers. In any other venue, this would be false advertising and fraud.

Under the Federal Trade Commission Act:

• Advertising must be truthful and non-deceptive

David Attardi of B.F. Saul Company’s hospitality group called this practice “a systematic industry problem.”


This is a Google problem.

The Denny Hatch Simple Blue-Ribbon Solution
Require Google—and all other search companies—to put a small blue ribbon icon next to all authentic websites where the owner is paid up and current.

This means all of our websites will be instantly recognizable to those who want to reach us.

Takeaway to Consider
“When in doubt, do the obvious.” —Franklin Watts

Denny Hatch is a copywriter, designer and direct marketing consultant. His most recent book is “Write Everything Right!” Reach him at

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at

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  • Steve

    I agree with Rebecca. I know that Google puts ads in optimum placement to promote their paid advertisers. When I want to shop around, I research as many links as possible, starting with the paid ads. Once I get the information that I believe is adequate, I call the business direct to find out pricing. I have learned to research every time before I buy anything, and that research has been a great financial benefit.

    Google is big, Google can be overbearing at times, but Google makes a great deal of information available for which I don’t have to pay a fee (yet!). So if the ads get them revenue, I participate and feel comfortable doing so.

  • Rebecca Cashman

    This would totally do away with search engine optimization…. and what do you mean by:
    "Require Google—and all other search companies—to put a small blue ribbon icon next to all authentic websites where the owner is paid up and current."

    "the owner is paid up and current" — paid up how? If their domain name has expired and they didn’t renew it, they would stop showing up…. are you suggesting companies pay Google to have this blue ribbon? Companies can already pay Google (via AdWords) to appear on the paid listing results.

    They can even have their photograph show up via the Google authorship program (which gives more credibility to web content).

    On another note, the first two listings you posted are PAID ads — they even say "ad" on them. And, the URL doesn’t say so I don’t understand what the confusion is. I would know (and most everyone would know) that they aren’t on Marriott’s website.

    When you search and find a Marriott, for example, there will be a phone number next to that specific hotel, which will allow you to reach a operator. In fact, you can deduce that just by noticing that the listings have the same phone number — Ramada, Marriott, Hyatt, etc.

    The thing I like about is that I can compare pricing and locations for my specified dates, to see the best possible price at the closest distance to where I want to go. Then, I can go to the hotel’s website directly and find out whether they offer better pricing. Usually it is the same price.

    This is the same with travelocity. I can go there to compare fares and then when I find one with a schedule and price I like, I go to the airlines website and see if the flight is cheaper or the same. Doesn’t everyone do this?

  • BARRY Dennis

    it’s not just the Googles of the world, it’s all the DECEPTIVE, MISLEADING, FALSE and, yes, let me opine unnecessary advertising. Ut’s the 3/4 point type used in TV advertising disclaimers for everything from cars to drugs and in print and TV ads from Verizon and everybody else, particularly Verizon and Comcast that can’t be read even with reading glasses! And what do these ‘Dislaimers" say? Why that you will be charged whether you use the service or not; that you will pay a charge for early termination, no matter the circumstances; that "additional equipment, installation charges and various conection fees and setup feels and other unknown and undisclosed fees that show up on your bill, along with "negative option" charges for which the required-by-law prior notification that never seems to get there, will be charged."
    I could go on, but the point is that the FTC and FCC are NOT DOING THEIR JOBS! AND DON’T GET ME STARTED ON TV ADS FOR CARS AND DRUGS MOSTLY, THAT ADVERTISE A "DEAl" but the deal…isn’t. The rapidaly apprearing print "Disclaimers" can’t be read in the few seconds they are there on the screen, even if I were wearing great glasses, standing close, and could read 100 words-per-second. How about the small print and diclaimers in drug ads, as well as THE FACT THAT "SIDE EFFECTS MAY BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR HEALTH IN ANY NUMBEER OF UNAPPETIZING AND EVEN HORRIFIC WAYS," ARE WORSE THAN THE UNDERLYING SYMPTOMS OF THE DISEASE THEY ARE OFFERED TO TREAT (that last part is my editorial comment),
    There’s much more, an inexhaustible supply of bad, dishonest, misleading and generally unfriendly-to-consumers-advertising that the AAAB, the FTC, the FDA, the FCC and all the other "alphabet" government agencies are doing nothing about. Could it haVe to do with the lobbying, the political constributions by individuals and so-called "professional" associations? NAH, THAT COULDN’T BE RIGHT, COULD IT? POLITICAL INTERFERENCE AND INFLUENCE ON GOVERNMENT REGULATORS?
    "Class, can we say that we’re not being given the benefit of transparency or regulation as necessary from our government agencies responsible for doing so, who are SUPPOSED to represent us as consumers, and for which we pay ungodly amounts of taxes on everything from income, sales taxes and user fees,air and water, all obeying the old "if it breathes, tax it, if it doesn’t breath, tax it.?" Just sayin’.