Online Tourism Companies Accused Of Anti-Israel Bias
Though the West Bank also known as Judea and Samaria are considered “disputed” under international law, certain companies, including Expedia and Tripadvisor, have labeled their properties there as being in “Palestinian territory.” Though no major company has ever successfully boycotted Judea and Samaria, representatives of many of these companies have made statements in the past showing their support for “the Palestinian cause.”
Expedia is a large U.S.-based company that operates both expedia.com and hotels.com. Listings on both websites from Jewish communities in the disputed region are described as being in “Israeli settlements, in Palestinian territory.”
Laviana Rajaram, a representative of the Expedia group, told JNS that this decision was made in order to “provide transparency to our customers who are traveling to the disputed territories.” Rajaram further said that she stood by the decision to identify these accommodations as Israeli settlements located in occupied Palestinian territory.
Expedia hosts nine locations in Judea and Samaria on their website. Tripadvisor has also begun labeling listings in Judea and Samaria as being in “Palestinian territory.”
In 2018 Tripadvisor had many of their listings in the disputed area described as being in Israel. However, in 2019 Amnesty International began a campaign targeting the company.
Amnesty International released a report targeting many booking platforms for the business in the disputed area, accusing them of profiting from “war crimes against Palestinians.”
Tripadvisor was singularly targeted by Amnesty International for being “the largest driver of tourism” in Judea and Samaria. (Even though Tripadvisor has relabeled all of their Judea and Samaria listings, it continues to promote more than 70 listings in around 27 communities across Judea and Samaria, making it still among the largest promoters of tourism in that region.)
Not all online tourism companies have adopted this approach, however. Booking.com currently refers to lodgings in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria as being in Israel.
However, the organization has added travel warnings to listings in Judea and Samaria, instructing customers to review their government’s travel advisories for the region because it “might be considered a conflict zone.”
According to the Israeli Tourism Ministry, the original wording of the alert referred to the area as “occupied territory” and warned tourists that their stay might entail “human rights risks.”
The ministry said it had had to pressure the company into adopting the new, milder formulation. Booking.com justified its decision by saying that “certain areas in the world affected by conflict may pose a greater risk to travelers, so we provide our customers with information to help make decisions and encourage them to check their government’s official travel guidelines as part of the decision-making process.”
A representative of Booking.com told JNS that the decision is “motivated by our dedication to customer service.” A number of other regions, including Northern Cyprus, also have alerts on Booking.com, however these alerts do not refer to the areas as “conflicted zones.”
Furthermore, all locations on Bookings.com that are listed in areas under the administrative control of the Palestinian Authority are labeled as being in “Palestinian Territory.”
Booking.com has further come under fire from left-wing groups for not fully boycotting the lodgings in Judea and Samaria.
Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine Director for Human Rights Watch, said that “the company should stop brokering rentals” in what he called “illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank.”
Despite its labeling and alert policies, Booking.com has so far not capitulated to these demands and continues to host over 45 accommodations in Jewish communities across the disputed region.
Of all the major online tourism companies, Airbnb has so far adopted the most pro-Israel policy. Airbnb currently refers to all Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria as being in Israel. Furthermore, all areas under the administrative control of the Palestinian Authority are referred to simply by the city name, without any national affiliation.
Airbnb famously attempted to institute a boycott of lodgings in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria in 2018. This decision came in the aftermath of a massive campaign led by the Boycott Divest and Sanction (BDS) organization and other pro-Palestinian groups to pressure the company out of doing business with Jews in Judea and Samaria.
The company ultimately reversed its decision after several class-action lawsuits were brought against it by Israeli lawyers on behalf of property hosts in the boycotted area. Since then Airbnb has adopted a much more friendly policy.
In December of last year, Airbnb posted a number of articles about hosts in Israel.
Though none of the hosts mentioned in the articles offered rentals inin the disputed region,, sources in the Tourism Ministry explained this move as an attempt to repair ties with the Jewish and Israeli communities that were severely damaged by the attempted boycott
Produced in association with Jewish News Syndicate