The European Commission (EC) announced Tuesday that it is investigating allegations that the Disneyland Paris theme park's pricing practices are taking advantage of visitors from certain countries.
"The European Commission and European Consumer Centres frequently receive consumer complaints involving unjustified differences in treatment on the grounds of nationality or residence," an EC spokesperson told AFP on Tuesday. "We are currently examining a number of complaints, many of which are against Disneyland Paris."
According to reports, the pricing complaints originate mainly from the UK, Germany, and Italy.
The Financial Times reported earlier this week that German and British visitors sometimes pay hundreds of euros more for ticket packages than French visitors. It noted that French consumers can buy a "premium package" for 1,346 euros ($1,478) while British visitors in some cases have to put up 1,870 euros ($2,053) for the same deal, while Germans might have to pay 2,447 euros ($2,687).
A spokesperson for Disneyland Paris denied that the company overcharges foreign tourists, and told VICE News that it had "received no letter from the Commission." He added that he did not know what the Financial Times was referring to when it mentioned a "premium package."
The Disneyland Paris spokesman explained that the company runs different promotions based around the school holidays, and that different deals take into account when customers book their visits.
"In the UK, people book their trip six months in advance, whereas in France, they usually book three months in advance," he said, noting as well that Disneyland Paris "has to deal with 53 different school calendars."
The British news site BT found that a family of two adults and two children would be charged £232 for a single-day park ticket through Disneyland Paris's UK website, whereas the theme park's French site would charge the equivalent of £199. That's a difference equivalent to about 47 euros, or roughly $51.
"We don't practice geo-blocking, and we don't store your information," explained the Disneyland Paris spokesperson. "You can reserve tickets and a hotel room on the English site from France, and vice versa."
On Wednesday, Disneyland Paris's French site displayed different language options, all leading to different prices.
"These practices are discriminatory, since the pricing differences between various countries are not based on objective reasons," Johannes Kleis, a spokesman for the Brussels-based European Consumer Organization.
"There are objective reasons to set different prices for different countries: for example, if delivery fees are more expensive in one country," Kleis noted. "It could also be the case that two countries tax the same product or service differently. In those cases, a difference in price is permitted."
"It is time to get to the bottom of this," Elzbieta Bienkowska, Europe's Common Market Commissioner, remarked to the Financial Times. "I am interested in answers and explanations. On the face of it, I struggle to see what objective justification there could be for these practices."
Disneyland Paris is the most popular tourist destination in France, according to France's National Institute for Statistics and Economics, ranking ahead of the world-famous Louvre museum and with more than twice as many visitors as the Eiffel Tower.
Under the leadership of Jean-Claude Juncker, who took over as president of the European Commission last November, the EC has made it a priority to stamp out "competition distortion among EU countries, particularly with regards e-commerce," said Kleis. "It wants to bring down national trade barriers to ensure a real common market, both in the real world and online."
According to French weekly Le Point, the EC has been in touch with French authorities over the Disneyland Paris probe, since the country is responsible for enforcing EU trade rules.
Last year, rental car companies had been warned by the EC over reports they were pricing rentals differently, based on the country in which the reservation was made. Other companies — including Amazon and several Spanish hotel chains — are also facing EU probes over similar allegations, as Europe tries to stamp out competition distortion and enforce common market rules.