The CNMC opens a file on travel agencies for an alleged cartel of distribution of customers and offers

The National Markets and Competition Commission (CNMC) is investigating several travel agencies for possible anticompetitive practices consisting of agreements to manipulate and distribute tenders, launched by the General State Administration , for the provision of travel agency services in Spain and abroad.

The controlled companies are: IAG7, Viajes El Corte Inglés and its parent company El Corte Inglés, Nautalia Viajes and its parent company Wamos; Sekai Corporate Travel, Viajes Halcón, Ávoris Retail Division, Ávoris Corporación Empresarial and its parent company Grupo Barceló.

According to the agency’s press release, these anti-competitive behaviors would be contrary to Article 1 of the Law for the Defense of Competition (LDC) and Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), and would affect the provision of agency services, travel in Spain and abroad.

For the CNMC, the travel agencies could have shared clients and/or public tenders, in addition to having exchanged commercially sensitive information.

The Competition Department of the CNMC opened this file on the basis of information collected thanks to the provisions of article 132 of the Public Sector Contracts Law (LCSP), and after having inspected the head offices of IAG7, Viajes El Corte Inglés, Nautalia Viajes and Grupo Barceló. from March 28 to 31, 2023.

The opening of this file does not prejudge the final result of the investigation. From now on, a maximum period of 24 months is open for the investigation of the file and its resolution.

Cartel detection

The CNMC recalls that agreements between competitors constitute a very serious infringement of competition law, which may result in fines of up to 10% of the total turnover of the offending companies. Indeed, the investigation into cartels constitutes one of the CNMC’s priorities for action, given the particular seriousness of its consequences on consumers and on the proper functioning of markets.

To achieve this, there is, among other things, the leniency program, which allows companies that provide evidence to the organization to benefit from an exemption from paying the fine to detect the cartel in which they participate or participated.

This program also allows companies requesting leniency and providing high value-added information to benefit from reductions in the amount of the fine once the CNMC investigation has been opened.

In addition to the exemption from paying the fine or reducing its amount, companies applying for leniency are also exempt from the ban on contracting established in Article 71 of the Public Sector Contracts Act for sanctioned companies. for serious breach in this matter. competition. This is the case pursuant to article 72.5 of the aforementioned law, and articles 65.4 and 66.5 of the competition law, which govern the leniency program.

The CNMC also has an online citizen collaboration platform to detect cartels. This platform, called the System of Anonymous Competition Reporters (SICA), allows anonymous reporting of anticompetitive practices, such as agreements between competing companies to fix prices or other commercial conditions, the allocation of markets or customers, or the distribution of fraudulent public or private calls for tenders. .

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