The French Competition Council condemns SNCF for anticompetitive practices in the travel agency sector

06 May 2009

Romain Ferla

On 5 February 2009, the Competition Council imposed a fine of EUR 5 million on SNCF, the French national railway company, for favouring its own ticket selling website (www.voyages-sncf.com).    

The French Competition Council received complaints from 2002 onwards from “Karavel-Promovacances”, “Lastminute”, and “Switch” that they were not treated fairly by SNCF. According to the Competition Council, they could not distribute promotional offers (last–minute offers, TGV tickets at reduced prices) nor provide features such as giving customers the option of printing electronic tickets. In addition, the Council found that, in order to sell tickets, the agencies were forced to acquire an IT licence from SNCF at a high price while Voyages-sncf.com was not required to pay a licence fee.

SNCF decided not to challenge the objections it received from the Competition Council and proposed some undertakings.

In order to respond to the competition concerns raised by the Council, SNCF committed to make the same offers and facilities available to all rival websites.  Furthermore, SNCF committed to significantly reduce the price of the IT licence, thus allowing the agencies to use the same direct connection system as Voyages-sncf.com, so they can connect easily to the SNCF ticket reservation system.

The Competition Council considered that these commitments were likely to remove the current and future competition concerns. These commitments will facilitate the centralisation of offers available in the ticket reservation system, which will be forwarded to all travel agencies.

Finally, the Council considered that these commitments will favour competition by providing greater transparency for railway companies planning to enter the French market when the competition for international passenger transport services is opened up.

Source: Decision of the Competition Council No 09-D-06 of February 05, 09, http://www.conseil-concurrence.fr/pdf/avis/09d06.pdf