Bill McCollum, the Florida Attorney General filed suit against Expedia and Orbitz this afternoon, opening the next chapter in the ongoing fight over occupancy taxes. Florida is the first state to take such a step - all of the previous actions have been filed by cities or groups of cities in a specific state.
It is not clear why the suit was only filed against Expedia and Orbitz - in the past these actions have usually been taken against all of the major OTAs including Priceline and Travelocity, among others.
In reading the actual complaint, there does seem to be some confusion in how the merchant model actually works.
For example, in Section 9: “each Defendant purchases and receives inventories of hotel rooms at negotiated rates from the hotels.” and “re-sells the rooms to consumers at rates determined by that particular Defendant.” Lets take a look at these two statements. Does Expedia, in most cases anyway, actually purchase a block of rooms and hold the inventory? No, not since the early days of Hotels.com - most, if not all, rooms are not purchased and held in advance. As far as determining the rates paid by consumers, again, certainly in the case of the chain hotels, the OTAs are not setting the prices - the chains are through their contractual agreements.
The AG claims that the OTAs are using a “purchase and resale” model which just isn’t the case.
The big issue is that the model roughly described by the AG has been in place long before the Internet came around - how do they think all those rooms at Disney World are filled? Thousands of rooms are sold every night in Florida under the wholesale model - I bet more than in any other state in the country except for maybe Nevada. These wholesalers also remit the taxes back to the state based on the wholesale or net portion of the room rate, not on what the consumer actually paid for their package which may include Disney tickets and plenty of other things also bought on a wholesale basis.