A U.S. digital tourism and travel company that owns and operates several search and booking websites. Its subsidiary Bookings.com lists locations in occupied Palestinian and Syrian lands.
Booking Holdings Inc is a U.S.-based publicly traded company that owns the Netherlands-based company Booking.com, which the company claimed in 2017 is the world’s largest accommodation booking website. It lists more than 1.7 million hotels, apartments, and other accommodation venues, and charges them a commission for reservations made through the website. Booking Holdings owns additional online tourism and travel websites, which all use Booking.com’s data and services. These include the U.S.-based KAYAK, Priceline.com, as well as Singapore-based Agoda. Booking.com data is also used by other online tourism and travel companies, such as China-based Ctrip and UK-based Opodo.
Booking.com lists dozens of accommodation options located in illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory. On June 2017, Who Profits documented listings in six illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, in three illegal settlements in the occupied Syrian Golan, and additional listings in occupied East Jerusalem. On July 2018, Human Rights Watch and Kerem Navot documented 26 properties in West Bank settlements, not including East Jerusalem. On September 2018, Amnesty International documented 20 properties in West Bank settlements and 25 in occupied East Jerusalem. Most were rental apartments and homes, but some were hotels, including six with more than fifty rooms.
Booking.com has a subsidiary in Israel - Booking.com Israel Online Hotel Reservations Ltd - with offices in Tel Aviv. As in other locations, the Israeli subsidiary is defined as a “support company,” whose role is assisting the local properties listed on the company’s website. The company’s staff in Israel directly communicates with accommodation providers throughout the country, including in illegal settlements, sometimes in person. The roles of the local office include training the providers on how to use the Booking.com platform, advising them on how to promote their listings, and verifying the accuracy of the information they provide to the website.
Booking.com’s actions violate several principles of international law. First, the company contributes to the illegal settlement economy by driving tourism and providing jobs and income, financing continued settlement existence and expansion, in violation of international law. Second, the company is involved in discrimination against West Bank Palestinians since, unlike their Israeli neighbors or foreign tourists, they cannot access the properties listed in settlements.
The company’s involvement also raises concerns of pillage, as the company is gaining a portion of the rental fees without the freely given consent of the legal landowners. According to the international laws of belligerent occupation, an occupying power may appropriate property only for military necessity or for the exclusive benefit of the occupied population. At least fifteen of the settlement listings were built either on land that Israel designated as “state land” or on land Israel has acknowledged was privately owned by Palestinians, according to Human Rights Watch and Kerem Navot.
Human Rights Watch maintains that “Booking.com cannot remediate these harms, because they are inherent to the settlement enterprise.” Therefore, both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International called on the company to comply with its international human rights obligations by removing listings in illegal settlements. Amnesty International further called on the U.S. and Dutch governments to “take regulatory action to prevent” Booking.com and other companies from facilitating the rental of such properties.
In response to these allegations, Booking.com brushed off its obligations, claiming that its activities do not amount to providing “services and utilities supporting the maintenance and existence of settlements,” as referenced by the Report of the International Fact-Finding Mission on Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. However, in October 2018, the company changed the labeling of some of its listings to “the Palestinian Territories, Israeli Settlement,” as required by European Union regulations. However, Booking.com does not consistently label all properties in this way and many are still labeled as located in Israel.