(JNS) On Friday, Booking.com, the large global online lodging accommodation service website, placed a travel warning on all of its listings—both Jewish- and Arab-owned—for properties in Judea and Samaria, including in towns under full Palestinian Authority control.
The warning, which appears in a box towards the top of the page for searches on properties in the area, urges potential clients to: “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.“
A similar warning will now appear on properties in another 40 or so “conflict zones” around the world.
In September, JNS reported that Booking.com was considering labeling Jewish-owned properties in Judea and Samaria with a security disclaimer.
Jerusalem over the weekend issued a statement celebrating the change as a “political achievement for Israel” following “discreet and efficient discussions” with the Amsterdam-based company in order to persuade it not to single out Jewish businesses.
Prime Minister Yair Lapid praised the move and said, “We thank Booking for changing the decision. The State of Israel accomplished an important achievement today in the fight against delegitimization.”
That being said, Booking.com still lists all Jewish properties in Judea and Samaria as being part of the “West Bank, Palestinian Territory.”
The government may have applauded the fact that the warning isn’t being applied exclusively to Jewish-owned businesses, but some of Israel’s B&B owners are in no mood for celebration.
On Thursday, a day before Booking.com released its statement, JNS participated in a tour for journalists organized by the MediaCentral media liaison service in the area of the Megilot Dead Sea Regional Council (over the so-called green line), where bed and breakfast and other lodging accommodation and resort business owners said that the news of an upcoming travel warning by Booking.com, regardless of its wording, was already harming their businesses.
Lital and Zohar Aizenberg operate a small, Mexican-themed bed and breakfast in the Jewish community of Vered Yericho called Mi Casa Tu Casa that they opened a few years ago, overlooking the P.A.-controlled city of Jericho,
“We are already feeling the effects [of the labeling],” Lital explained to JNS as she showed off one of her vacant rental units.
“Tourism is a vulnerable business. When people from abroad rely solely on the news, it gives them a reason to be scared. Any type of warning for tourists, that something unexpected can happen to them, will have an impact on our bottom line,” she explained.
Zohar added, “First Airbnb abandoned us,” referring to that company’s since-reversed decision in 2019 to delist Jewish properties in Judea and Samaria, “which dropped our income by 50 percent as we tried to survive financially, and now this.”
Zohar said that their community has a good relationship with their local Arab neighbors. “When BDS starts, it’s thousands of Palestinians who are the ones who lose their jobs,” he continued, referring to examples such as SodaStream’s decision to close its Mishor Adumim factory and move to the Negev, thus putting many PA Arabs out of work.
A few minutes down the road at the 81-room Almog Kibbutz Holiday Village, regional manager Oren Aharoni told JNS that he is not losing sleep over any labeling by Booking.com.
While the property is listed on the site, he said that most of his business comes from Birthright and other groups, and these days mainly Israeli tourists.
That being said, he finds the labeling absurd. “This area is quiet,” he said. “There has not been one bullet fired here since 1967.”
Taking a hard-nosed attitude, Aharoni said, “I’m not worried about Booking or their safety warnings. Besides, there is no future for agents. Guests will start making reservations directly with the hotels.”
On the other hand, Dina Dagan, the proprietor of the 110-room Moroccan-themed Biankini Village Resort on the northern shore of the Dead Sea, who gets 80 percent of her business through Booking.com, was animatedly upset by the labeling.
“Suddenly, Booking decided that it’s dangerous to come here?” she asked rhetorically. “Where were they during the Second Intifada? Where were they before Israel had peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan? There are terror attacks in countries all over the world, so why are they claiming here and now that this is a dangerous place?”
Her guests consist not only of Jewish Israelis, but Israeli Arabs along with PA Arabs who arrive from Nablus, Ramallah, Hebron and other areas, Dagan said.
She told JNS that she generates between 4 million and 5 million shekels ($1.1 million-$1.4 million) in revenue per year through Booking.com (before the company’s fees), which she has been working with for more than a decade, but that she is already seeing a decline since the news of the labeling threat broke last month.
“Tourists rely on Booking and they don’t know the reality, so why are they scaring people?” she asked. “We have peace here.”
Dagan said that her resort will now explore alternatives to the Booking website.
“Booking is making our tourist site a political issue,” she said. “It’s not their place to divide our land. Who gave them the authority to define our borders here in Israel? Making a unilateral political decision is just wrong,” she said.
Avi Bell, an Israeli professor of Law at Bar-Ilan University’s Faculty of Law in Ramat Gan and the University of San Diego School of Law, Bell, addressed the visiting journalists, citing a double standard applied by the world community when it comes to Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria vs. true belligerent occupations such as Turkey’s in northern Cyprus or Morocco’s in Western Sahara.
Bell said this is not the first time that Booking.com has taken a political position regarding Israel. in 2018, for a brief period, the website listed Jerusalem as an “Israeli settlement.”
As for the current warning, Bell said, “I’m guessing there is an activist or set of activists within the company advocating a boycott policy. But someone had the good sense to water it down before it got them [Booking.com] into legal trouble by singling out Jewish properties.”
A spokesperson for the company told JNS, “Our mission at Booking.com is to make it easier for everyone to experience the world. 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 disputed or conflict-affected areas and which may pose greater 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. Similar messaging is already visible for searches on our platform for Northern Cyprus, and in this current phase of the rollout includes Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia and the West Bank,” the spokesperson said.