by Greta Melli and Yannis Pleios
How many people this summer booked a hotel room or an apartment for their holidays through a portal? Probably many. But despite the availability of accommodation even in the remotest places on earth, sometimes major reasons such as wars or unresolved territorial disputes limit access to certain areas. Or at least, they make it impossible for an economic operator to move as he wants.
We have wrote in the past about Booking.com and its “problems with geopolitics”: a few years ago the company made available several accommodations in hotels in Crimea, Sevastopol and Palestine, despite EU regulations. In some cases, even UN required those doing business in those areas to respect the decisions of supranational political authorities.
Exactly four years ago, we published a reportage and saw that Booking.com, in the case of Crimea and despite the EU ban on doing business with the Russian authority that replaced the Ukrainian one -after a controversial referendum- customers still could book rooms and apartments on the Black Sea peninsula.
The embargo in Crimea is still operating (but Booking.com does not know).
Four years have passed since then, but has anything changed? Today, the embargo is still valid: EU operators will no longer be permitted to offer tourism services in Crimea or Sevastopol. Clear, isn’t it?
Seems like it, but not for Booking.com: its press office, in 2015, told us they were aware of the ban and they had nothing to do with any of the companies in the area: The EU has issued a list of people with whom business should not be conducted, both without intermediaries or through companies related to them; we do not work with any of the names on the list nor with business associates, so we are transparent and in line with the rules.
Last year, the German DW Deutsche Welle portal examinated this subject; accommodation in Crimea was still available at the time, three years after the EU embargo. According to their website, however, only those who traveled for business could book rooms or hotels in Crimea; this was to ensure transparency.
Actually, this restriction has only been operating for a year and many comments and reviews of facilities which resembled the ones made by tourists were online but now they’ve magically disappeared.
And here the mystery thickens: apparently, an ambiguous system is not enough, because now hotels also disappear.
Yes, you got it right: on June 25th, 2019, as shown in the screenshots, customers could book without problem. Suddenly, the next day, the hotels disappeared as if they never existed. But there’s another twist: they came back online just for 24 hours, and disappeared again the next day.
Because of the embargo, European companies cannot do business with the former territory of Ukraine, which has been under the Russian government during the last four years. On June 20th, 2019, this ban was extended until January 2020, because, according to Europe, the annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol by Moscow is illegal.
Despite the embargo on the Dutch website, tourists and travelers can still choose 3535 properties in Yalta and Sevastopol.
Actually, many hotels on the Black Sea were fully booked for the summer. Which is good for business, but let’s not forget that Booking.com is still a company that operates under Dutch and EU regulations.
Palestine or Israel?
And if we focus on another conflict area, the story repeats itself: in Israel and Palestine it’s illegal to allow accommodations in Israeli settlements. Not only according to Europe but also according to the United Nations. After a very long struggle, Airbnb gave up and decided to remove the properties in the Israeli colonies in the West Bank. And Booking.com? In Amsterdam they’re still skilled with business but a little less with geopolitics.
Naomi’s, Si-Har Chatelet, Between Water and Sky, Hunter’s Lodge are technically in disputed areas, where Israeli settlements are considered by UN illegal. But in fact, for Booking.com, they’re in Israel.
And in Cyprus we rewrite history
From the shore to the island on the right corner of Mediterranean Sea, and from endless conflict (Israel and Palestine) to endless conflict (Greece and Turkey for Cyprus) the result is still the same: for Booking.com history simply does not exist.
Cyprus has experienced one of the most complex political situations of the post-war period. A brief summary for those who are not familiar with the subject: since 1974, after the Turkish invasion, Cyprus has been divided into two state entities. The government of the South, with a Greek majority, is in the EU and is the official one. The government of the North is recognized only by Turkey and is considered by the UN a military occupation of Ankara. The authority of the so-called Turkish Cypriot Republic, which confiscated, during the invasion, the hotels owned by the Greek Cypriots now run by Turkish Cypriots or Turks, made everything a lot more complicated. In the South, they weren’t really happy, and international rules seem to prove them right. Yet, go figure, even in this case Booking.com didn’t notice.
Technically, there’s a ban which is still valid that forbids staying in the area that Greek Cypriots esteem illegitimate. There are no cases of tourists accused of disobedience in the Turkish area towards rules imposed by the Greek area, and yet tourists still don’t have access to the occupied area.
It may count just a little, but it’s still a decision made by the only officially recognised authority. And to find hotels you don’t need sophisticated detective techniques: just use the search button.
Booking.com fails geography
You, Dark Tourists, aren’t satisfied with the most popular destinations? Don’t worry, the map of unrecognized states that Booking offers from its website extends, basically, to all the areas that were disputed after the collapse of the former URSS.
Do you want to spend the night in the unrecognized Republic of Donetsk? No problem, you’ll find facilities on Booking (and Booking practices also in “conflict resolution”: according to the portal, Donetsk is “Russia”, despite the war that goes on since 2014, between Moscow and Kiev. If they knew, the Ukrainians would probably not be so happy) in Donetsk and also in Luhansk, another secessionist republic not recognized by anyone, if not other republics unrecognized.
In Luhansk the situation is even more curious: while Booking has already annexed Donetsk to Russia, the Republic of Lugansk still is in Ukraine. The reason for this difference, however, is a mystery.
And if tourism in conflict areas is your thing, you’ll have plenty of choices: Nagorno Karabakh, South Ossetia and even Transistria. On Booking you’ll find everything. In this case, countries that have claims over these secessionist micro republics are mentioned in the addresses. So if Booking puts the guesthouse “Patara” in Armenia, you can actually see on Googlemaps that the property is in the unrecognized territory of Nagorno Karabagh, an Armenian-speaking area claimed by Azerbaijan.
And be careful: that’s not a small detail. If you don’t trust us, as with Donetsk to the Ukrainians, try to say to an Azerbaijani that Nagorno Karabagh is in Armenia. No, he won’t be happy about it.
But what does Booking think of this? We tried several times to contact the press office, but they asked us “why” we were making this report; after that, they declined comment.