A mother and daughter who booked a four-star beachfront hotel on Booking.com for a mini-break in Israel were shocked to turn up and find it was an abandoned ruin.
B&B owner Christine Sillman and her daughter Tonya, 51, reserved the ‘Royal Jaffa’ in Tel Aviv from May 16 to 18, after seeing an advert boasting of its enviable old town location and rooms offering flat-screen TVs, ensuite bathrooms and sea views.
But they arrived at their £120-per-night ($152) accommodation to find an empty, abandoned building with ladders pitched up against crumbling walls, windows with no glass and a flight of entrance steps that led to a nowhere.
‘It wasn’t quite the beachfront hotel with sea view balconies that we were expecting,’ Mrs Sillman said.
‘Booking.com should have really checked that the place existed before allowing it to be advertised on their website.’
The Sillmans, from Boroughbridge in North Yorkshire, travelled to Israel on May 6 and spent three days in Jerusalem before making the 40-mile journey to Tel Aviv, a tourist hotspot famed for its beaches and nightlife.
They had chosen to stay in the neighbourhood of Old Jaffa because of its proximity to the beach and charming streets packed with old buildings and markets.
The pair were due to move into the Royal Jaffa on May 16 – a day before the start of the Eurovision song contest – but arrived a day before to check its advertised airport shuttle service was still running.
‘We were walking down the street and got to this building on the corner where the hotel was meant to be,’ Mrs Sillman said.
‘But all we found was a ruin. There were some balconies, lots of ladders hanging about everywhere, and some stairs we walked out that led nowhere.
‘At first we assumed we’d got it wrong so wandered around to a nearby five-star hotel and spoke to a man on the desk.
‘He said other people had tried to check into the hotel before and that it was a scam.’
The pair frantically set about finding new accommodation to avoid being left out on the streets, and were eventually able to find a local hostel with the receptionist’s help.
‘We could have been in real trouble as it was the night before Eurovision and everywhere was packed,’ she said.
‘As someone who runs a B&B I’ve always been sceptical about Booking.com as they are doing really bad stuff with the tourism market in the UK by monopolising bookings from foreign tourists, and then charging commission from the owners.
‘We were lucky that the same concierge was able to find us a fairly reasonable hostel.’
Mrs Sillman said she was on the phone to Booking.com for nearly an hour while she was being ‘passed from person to person’.
A page for the Royal Jaffa remains on Booking.com, although there is a notice saying no bookings are being accepted.
The description reads: ‘Royal Jaffa offers accommodation in Tel Aviv. This 4-star hotel has air-conditioned rooms with a private bathroom.
‘Rooms are fitted with a terrace. At the hotel, rooms come with a balcony with a sea view. The units include a flat-screen TV with satellite channels.
‘Guests at Royal Jaffa can enjoy a kosher breakfast. The reception can provide advice on the area in order to help guests plan their day.’
The description adds: ‘This is our guests’ favourite part of Tel Aviv, according to independent reviews.’
There were no guest reviews on the page.
Booking.com has now agreed to refund the cost of the Sillmans’ alternative accommodation, as well as the cost of their taxi and expenses.
The company said: ‘Our top priority is to help guarantee a smooth and pleasant experience for our customers that empowers them to enjoy travelling wherever and whenever they choose.
‘We are available to support them 24/7, especially in the very rare instance that something unexpected might occur at a property.
‘As this is not the experience we want for any of our customers, we have apologised to this customer and refunded them in full for the cost of the alternative property that they booked, as well as for any relocation expenses they incurred.’