Nearly half the major hotel chains in the UK are breaching regulations by not including VAT in headline prices online at some of their establishments, according to Which? Travel magazine.
Its investigation found that of 24 hotel chains used by Which? readers, 11 included hotels that did not initially show VAT to those booking online.
Trading standards experts have warned hotels not displaying VAT that they are potentially breaching consumer protection regulations.
Which? Travel carried out a snapshot search of London hotels last month and found properties in 11 chains that displayed an initial price on their website that excluded VAT. The 11 chains were Crowne Plaza, Doubletree by Hilton, Guoman, Hilton, Holiday Inn, Malmaison, Marriott, Mercure, Radisson Blu, Sofitel and Thistle.
The magazine said several properties did not include VAT, which adds 20% to the cost of a room, until their payment page. Hilton and Doubletree by Hilton included VAT at stage four of a five-stage booking process.
Which? Travel said it carried out its investigation after the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld a complaint that VAT-exclusive prices of websites of Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG) and its subsidiary Crowne Plaza were misleading and breached the ASA code.
The magazine said the ASA had ordered IHG to change its practices and had started a compliance action to get the whole UK hotel sector to fall into line with its code.
Which? Travel said Martin Couchman, deputy chief executive of the British Hospitality Association, which represents major hotel chains, said many establishments were planning to change their practices in the light of the ASA judgment.
The magazine quoted a Hilton Worldwide spokesman as saying the chain was changing its website so VAT-inclusive prices were displayed in countries where required by law. Which? Travel also said a Mercure spokesman had said that only one of around 70 of the chain's UK hotels did not include VAT in its headline prices.
The magazine said chains that did include VAT in the headline prices included Barcelo (now Puma), Britannia, Best Western, Days Inn, De Vere, Holiday Inn Express, Ibis, Jury's Inn, Macdonald and Novotel.