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Consumer Rights.

13 Aug 2021

I experienced racial discrimination when booking or on holiday - what can I do?

How to take action if you experience racism when booking or on a trip in the UK and abroad
Hannah Downes

What are my rights against racial discrimination in the UK?

The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful for a company to discriminate against you because of your race or any other protected characteristic.

You might be the victim of racial discrimination if you pay more, receive worse service, or are refused service entirely, because of your race.

This Equality Act defines race as including colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins.

If a UK-based holiday company or host treats you less favourably because of your race, or any other protected characteristic, they could be in breach of the Equality Act and you might be able to take action.

Certain types of discrimination are defined as 'hate crime'.

A hate crime could be a person committing a verbal, physical or sexual assault against you, or making threats of violence towards you because you hold a protected characteristic.

You can report hate crimes to the police who have a duty to investigate them.


Examples of discrimination

  • A Black woman attempts to book a weekend away in the UK using a popular booking platform for her and her white partner. Despite the platform showing the property is available on their chosen dates, the host contacts the woman to say they don’t have availability that weekend after all. The woman’s partner attempts to book the same weekend instead and the host accepts the booking.
  • A group of British Asian men stay at a property for a UK based mid-week break. They keep the property in good condition, but the host says they’ve left it in a mess and makes a racially insensitive comment.
  • A Black man books a holiday through a booking platform. Following the holiday, there is a dispute between the man and the host over a missing item in the property. The man claims he did not see the item but the host does not accept this and begins sending a series of racially offensive and threatening messages which the man finds distressing and reports to the police

What are my rights against racial discrimination when travelling abroad?

Unfortunately your rights against discrimination in the UK can’t always be relied on for protection when you’re on holiday abroad.

But if you arrange some of your overseas trip in the UK you might be covered.

The closer the connection to the UK, the more likely that the court will accept that UK anti-discrimination law does apply.

For example, if you organised to stay in an American hotel and an employee at the hotel discriminated against you, it’s extremely unlikely that UK law would apply, even if you booked the hotel through an ad on a UK website.

However, if the stay was part of a package arranged and paid for in the UK through a UK-based holiday company, it’s more likely that UK discrimination law would apply.

If you experience discrimination while on a trip abroad, you might need to explore what protections the laws of that country offer.

Do I have rights against racial discrimination when flying?

Air travel isn’t covered by the main anti-discrimination legal protections, but the UK courts have tried to work around this as much as possible.

Discrimination experienced prior to getting onto an aeroplane has been found to be unlawful in some cases.

A case taken in 2005 against Ryanair found the airline and the airport had discriminated against the customer in the UK by failing to provide a wheelchair and charging extra for the provision of a wheelchair.

Case study

Direct discrimination and victimisation

A black business class flyer is traveling from a London airport. An employee of the airport, in front of other passengers, asks them to step out of the line for business class.

When they explains the are in the right queue, the employee insists there must be a mistake.

The black business class flyer might have a claim for direct discrimination and harassment against the airport.

A white passenger sees this incident and protests against the employee’s behaviour. They are asked to step out of line and are told the flight is full so they’ll have to catch the next one.

This passenger might have a claim for victimisation as they were treated less favourably due to the complaints they made about the racist comments directed at the other passenger.

How to take action

Follow these steps to take action against the company that's discriminated against you.

1. Collect evidence

If you experience discrimination when travelling or booking a trip, make notes of dates, reference numbers and details of conversations as soon as possible after the incident occurs.

Take a photo of any handwritten notes so there can be no dispute over the date they were made - the nearer the time to the incident the better.

Make sure to collect as much evidence as possible, including receipts, screenshots of messages or website posts and any correspondence.

You can then use this evidence to support your complaint or legal action.

2. Make a complaint

Whether you experienced the discrimination in the UK or overseas, you can complain to the person who discriminated against you, the company they work for, and the booking platform or agency you booked the trip with.

Reporting the complaint to the booking platform can be a powerful tool. If they fail to take action it’s hard for them to argue they’re not complicit in the discrimination in future.

Booking platforms often have anti-discrimination policies which allow them to investigate and sanction users for discriminatory behaviour.

They also might be obliged to remove racist content from their sites.

There have been examples of booking sites providing the offending person or company with training or suspending them from their platforms.

Complaints might be faster and more easily resolved than legal action.

key information

Employer responsibility 

A white British woman with an Irish surname, attempts to book with a B&B in the UK through a booking platform. Her booking is cancelled with no explanation a week before it's due to take place but her friends who don’t have Irish surnames still have their bookings.

The woman might have been subjected to direct discrimination because she appears to have been treated less favourably on the basis of her race. It doesn’t matter if she isn’t actually Irish.

The owner of the B&B says they’re not responsible for the actions of their employee. She makes a complaint to the booking platform who, after investigating, find the B&B has broken its terms of use. The B&B is suspended from the site.

3. Take legal action

If your complaint isn’t taken seriously or you don’t get the response you wanted, you can consider taking legal action.

Bear in mind there’s a six-month time limit on bringing a legal claim in the UK, which might start from when the discrimination occurred, so don’t delay in getting legal advice.

In the UK, a business is usually responsible for the actions of its employees, which includes any discriminatory behaviour.

This means it’s more straightforward to take legal action against an accommodation provider than a booking platform if you experience discrimination in the UK.

Taking legal action against a booking platform or holiday company is a more complicated process.

If you experience discrimination abroad, you should check how closely aligned with the UK your booking was.

For example, did you arrange and pay for the trip in the UK through a UK-based company? If so, this could mean UK anti-discrimination laws are more likely to apply to your case.

You might also need to explore what protections the laws of that country offer.

It's important to seek legal advice as soon as possible before going ahead with legal action.

key information

Discrimination in another country 

A Black person in the UK books a holiday through a UK-based booking platform to stay at someone’s home in Morocco. But when the they arrive the host refuses to let them stay.

It appears the host might be discriminating due to their race. In this case, it will likely be difficult to hold the host or booking platform responsible for the discrimination in UK courts. Instead they need to seek advice about the laws in Morocco related to race discrimination and can also ask the booking platform to take the host’s listing down.