Booking.com labels settlements, Palestinian towns ‘conflict-affected’

Booking.com has caused controversy in the Middle East as they began labeling hotels in occupied territories as hotspots for conflict.

 Employees work on computers at the new Booking.com customers site in Tourcoing (photo credit: REUTERS)
Employees work on computers at the new Booking.com customers site in Tourcoing
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Hotel and lodgings reservation company Booking.com labeled properties in Judea, Samaria and Gaza “conflict-affected,” in a new policy instituted on Friday.

 "Please review any travel advisories provided by your government to make an informed decision about your stay in this area, which may be considered conflict-affected," the site reads, when searching for lodgings in the West Bank.

Some 39 other areas around the world are labeled “conflict-affected,” including the Nagorno-Karabakh region, disputed between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and Georgia’s South Ossetia, which Russia occupied in 2008.

Booking planned to add a unique label to hotels and bed and breakfasts in settlements, saying they are on occupied territory, according to the Foreign Ministry.

How have Israeli officials reacted to this label change?

Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Tourism Minister Yoel Razbozov tried to put a positive spin on the development, touting the shift to a unitary label for the whole West Bank as an achievement, and even thanking Booking, though a label still remains.

“Our policy is not to abandon any arena and to make a constant diplomatic effort against anti-Israel false propaganda,” Lapid stated. “We thank Booking for the change of decision. Israel reached an important achievement in its fight against delegitimization.”

 Illustration showing Booking.com app (credit: REUTERS) Illustration showing Booking.com app (credit: REUTERS)

MK Simcha Rothman (Religious Zionism) accused Lapid of "thoroughly destroying all of Israel's diplomatic achievements. 

"The prime minister is returning us to the dangerous path of establishing a Palestinian terror state and isolating Israel with BDS methods of labeling Judea and Samaria settlers," Rothman said. "It's no wonder that all that is left for him is to be proud of a fake achievement over Booking.com."

Omar Shakir of Human Rights Watch, who has led the call for tourism websites to boycott settlements, argued that labeling them is not enough.

 “Booking.com’s decision to alert consumers about accommodation that may be located in conflict-affected areas is a welcome step towards informing consumers that they are renting homes in occupied territories," Shakir said.

"But notification in and of itself doesn’t end Booking’s contribution to serious rights abuses. The company should stop brokering rentals in illegal settlements in places like the occupied West Bank, built on land stolen from people living under apartheid who are themselves barred from staying there.”

"Our mission at Booking.com is to make it easier for everyone to experience the world," the company said in a statement. "We are planning to roll out banner notifications in more than 30 regions over the next few months to ensure that customers have the information they need to make informed decisions about destinations they are considering, which may be categorized as conflict-affected areas and which may pose risks to travelers. The aim is simply to provide information to help inform customers so that they can make their own decisions, or at least check the official travel guidelines of their government as part of their decision making process.  

"This initiative will also be implemented across other regions that may be considered disputed or conflict-affected."