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8 Oct 2021

Holiday booking platforms urged to stamp out racism

We uncover shocking reports of discrimination against black, Asian and minority ethnic travellers

People of colour are still being discriminated against when booking or taking a holiday, research from Which? Travel has found.

We sifted through 34 pages of reviews on TripAdvisor which levelled racist allegations against hotel staff in the UK and overseas.

We also spoke to holidaymakers who say their bookings were rejected on Airbnb and other rental platforms on the basis of race.

Anecdotal evidence of racism on booking platforms

Using a keyword search, we searched TripAdvisor for alleged reports of racism by guests.

Multiple reviews described uncomfortable encounters with the manager of an Oxford B&B. The guesthouse was 'highly-rated' on Booking.com, promising a garden terrace and a buffet breakfast of fresh fruit and homemade bread.

But one reviewer described being 'cornered' and subjected to a racist monologue. 'It was uncomfortable, upsetting and unprofessional,' they concluded.

Another guest reported barricading their door after hearing the manager's 'anti-Semitic semi-incoherent vitriol'. 'It was the first time in my life I had ever felt threatened in that way,' they posted.

The B&B manager did not respond to our request for comment. When we passed on our concerns to Booking.com, it suspended the property from its platform.

A spokesperson told us: 'We take any report of potentially discriminatory activity very seriously.' But it's disappointing that Booking.com didn't take action sooner given that several similar reviews appeared on its own site.

Discrimination reported at Club Med

It wasn't the only property to have attracted multiple accusations of racism.

Thirteen separate reviewers for Club Med Kani in the Maldives claimed to have witnessed discriminatory behaviour from GOs (members of staff known as 'Gracious Organisers'). One reviewer said: 'We felt very excluded and not in the right place being Asians.'

A spokesperson for Club Med told us that every report of discriminatory behaviour is investigated and appropriate action taken. 'We have a zero-tolerance approach to any form of discriminatory behaviour and this is outlined in the employee handbook as well as being reinforced in regular staff training,' they said.

No reviews of this nature have been posted since 2019.

Black and Asian travellers 'treated like criminals'

We also found reviews for a five-star all-inclusive resort in Mexico where black and Asian travellers complained of being treated like 'criminals' and 'second-class citizens'.

One said of the Dreams Los Cabos Suites Golf Resort & Spa: 'I noticed everywhere I went on the resort, walkie talkies came out and managers swarmed. I didn't feel welcomed or comfortable.'

Others claimed they were ignored by restaurant staff, with white guests routinely served ahead of them. A spokesperson for the resort said: 'Discrimination of our staff towards guests is prohibited and we are sure that it was never the intention to discriminate.'

Video: Holidaymakers share their experiences

Watch our video interviews with travellers who have faced discrimination and an expert offers advice on how to make a complaint if you experience racism on holiday.

Racist hosts on holiday rental sites

Discrimination can start as early as the booking process. This summer, Okorite Amachree had her booking rejected by hosting platform StayBeyond when she tried to book a night's stay in London for her birthday.

She had paid in full when the company requested that she film herself answering a series of questions. After sending the video, Okorite was told the booking was cancelled as the landlord could no longer accommodate her.

She tweeted about the 'uncomfortable' experience, prompting Hotels.com - the platform she booked through - to suspend the company from its site and arrange alternative accommodation for Okorite free of charge.

Leaving space for unconscious bias

Okorite has called for change after an 'uncomfortable' experience with a holiday rental site

StayBeyond has since reached out to apologise to Okorite for the 'hurt and upset' caused. It says that the video is automatically requested of all guests to ensure they agree to the hosts' terms and conditions.

It also maintains that the property was genuinely unavailable for the dates of Okorite's booking - blaming the 'misunderstanding' on an admin error. But Okorite has questioned the unusual vetting process.

She told Which? Travel: 'It's not something I've ever been asked to do before. It leaves space for unconscious bias as they are making judgements based on appearances.'

StayBeyond has since promised to review its ID verification process, adding: 'We would of course be thrilled to host Okorite in any of our homes.'

Rejected by hosts on Airbnb

Eulanda was rejected by an Airbnb host in Edinburgh

It is by no means an isolated case. Journalist and travel blogger Eulanda Osagiede claims she was rejected by an Airbnb host in Edinburgh - only for her white friend to subsequently have her booking accepted for the same room on the same day.

Eulanda believes she was discriminated against because of her profile photo - calling it an eye-opener.

Airbnb has since worked hard to address the problem, removing 1.3 million people from its platform for refusing to treat others without judgment or bias. It also rolled out its 'instant book' function - allowing travellers to reserve a room without being vetted first.

A spokesperson for Airbnb told us: 'We were saddened to hear about these experiences. Discrimination has no place on Airbnb, and we have introduced industry-leading changes to fight discrimination and bias on our platform.

'But there's still a lot more work to be done and in partnership with civil rights organisations, we've launched Project Lighthouse to uncover and overcome discrimination on Airbnb. This alone won't end discrimination, but it's an important step that can help us identify behaviour that would otherwise go undetected.'

What to do if you experience racial discrimination when travelling or booking a trip

Woman on the phone distressed

1. Collect evidence

Make notes of dates, reference numbers and details of conversations as soon as possible after the incident occurs. Collect plenty of evidence, 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 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 with. Booking platforms often have anti-discrimination policies which allow them to investigate and sanction users for discriminatory behaviour.

3. Take legal action

If your complaint isn't taken seriously or you don't get the response you wanted, consider taking legal action. Just be aware there's a six-month time limit on bringing a legal claim in the UK, which might start from the date the incident occurred. If you experienced discrimination abroad, explore what protections the laws of that country offer. Make sure to seek advice as soon as possible.

Read our guide on what to do if you experience racial discrimination when booking or while on holiday.