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Is racial profiling in travel business smart or just plain racist?

Racial profiling, it can get dark and murky but does it have a place in our industry?

Racial profiling, it can get dark and murky but does it have a place in our industry?



Our awareness of race, racism, religious choices, sexuality and anything that defines us is “on the table”. Think back to the jokes of the 80s where Rodney Rude and Andrew Dice Clay made a living out of Aboriginal and homophobic jokes respectively.

How things have changed.

We are now dealing with concepts of “gender fluidity“ , unthinkable five years ago, never mind 30.

So discussing “race” in travel is a tricky issue. roomsXML’s offices have expanded significantly and combined with my mum opening a hotel in Siem Reap, has opened up new dialogue that I have with hoteliers in my travels.


Racial profiling is a fixed part of our industry. Whilst trying to be sensitive, I’m also trying to share what we’ve learnt over time. Interestingly, sharing alone runs the risk of perceived racism.

I first became aware of the issue in “choose the nationality” drop-down box in our booking system. It was explained to me that it is simply easier to have Indians staying in a hotel in India during Diwali, or Chinese nationals staying in a Hong Kong hotel during Chinese New Year. They would be more likely to “fit in” and understand the fireworks at 1.00am outside their bedroom window.

But then I was informed that if you had nationals from country “X”, visiting country “Y” that they would pay a premium, no matter what the time of year. This premium, set by the hotel, was 2 to 3 times on the standard room rate. If they tried to book a cheaper rate and showed their passport at check in, they would be penalised.

Then for some nationals, profiling makes it easier to provide them with a good stay. So for example if you know someone from country “z” is staying in one of your rooms, a certain brand of tea or snack will make them feel at home, tailoring the experience to keep them happier.

This is all well and good until the nationals from another country have certain types of behavior which hoteliers share are not only predictable, but potentially very damaging to the hotel. We had a complaint recently and it was a rare case where the hotel actually engaged in dialogue with us.


“I hate saying it but I see all the time. They come over, throw their money around, but wash their underwear and hang it out on a common railing to dry. They will shop at XXX but won’t spend two dollars for us to wash their underwear. When we asked them to remove them from the common area that everyone walks past, they ignored us. Then they got really upset.

“The next we heard of it was that we had three of the most vile Trip Advisor ratings known to man. Suggesting they were kept waiting in the foyer for hours to check in, that there was rising damp, that the staff were rude, that someone had been in there room whilst they were not there. But at the same time the room had not been tidy to their satisfaction! It dropped our Trip Advisor rating significantly but was all lies.”

By this stage the agent and roomsXML realised there was very little we all the hotel could have done to keep this unreasonable customer happy. Whilst this was a specific example about a specific type of traveller from a certain country, there are several other stereotypes which ring true with surprising regularity.

Some hotels realise that if they can get this right, they can cater to a certain market and hit a sweet spot. In previewing a list of hotels that are wanting to connect to roomsXML, we look at their sales approach, the markets they want to enter and some specifically listed certain nationalities as their target market. They change their signage, they add multilingual staff and have subtle touches that appeal to certain nationals and demographics.

Finally, one of my favourite examples is flying from Australia to country “J” is always significantly more expensive than booking the ticket return from the other end.

So does racial profiling exist in this industry? Absolutely. Is it racist?

That largely depends who you are and how you look at it.

Do you think racial profiling in travel is racist?