Sat 17 April 2021

Following revelations of a blacklist of Irish Traveller names at holiday camp Pontins, Sian Norris speaks to a member of the Traveller community about an alleged pattern of discrimination

A woman of Traveller heritage has demanded a refund for a planned trip to Pontins Camber Sands following revelations the company keeps a blacklist of Irish Traveller names. 

A report in the i exposed how Irish Traveller names were listed beneath a cartoon of Gandalf the Wizard from Lord of the Rings alongside his quote “you shall not pass”. Staff were instructed not to take bookings from families whose surnames were on the list.

In response to the story, the Britannia Hotel Group, which owns Pontins, has now signed a legally-binding agreement with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to address the issues raised.

Louisa* has requested a refund from Pontins in protest at this act of anti-Traveller racism, telling the organisation she does not want to stay in a park where “people like me” aren’t welcome.

Because she won’t call the central office premium rate phone number, she has not had a response from Pontins about her refund. The specific site manager has expressed sympathy “on a human level” with her complaint.

Louisa says “if you were trying to set up a concentration camp for the Traveller community, that list of names would be a good starting point.”

Discrimination against the Roma, Traveller and Gypsy community has been described as the “last acceptable form of racism.”

“There are lots of holiday parks that have been acting in a racist manner for a long time,” Louisa explains. “It’s something I’ve experienced a lot with the vehicle I have. Literally, everyone that has ever tried to book a campsite while travelling knows this.” 

Although Louisa is of Traveller heritage and has an Irish surname, because she is not Irish Traveller she did not show on the list. This adds weight to the accusations made against Pontins that it was specifically the Irish Traveller, not simply Irish, community that was being blacklisted. 

However, Louisa also told Byline Times that she and her family have experienced anti-Traveller racism at campsites across the UK and claims that when she worked at another holiday park provider a similar policy was in existence. 

Blacklists at Other Holiday Sites

This is not the first time a campsite has been exposed for excluding the Traveller community. In 2019, Port William’s caravan park was told by the EHRC to end its “no traveller” ban. 

In 2016, the holiday camp Butlins was reported to the EHRC after John O’Leary’s family had their Christmas trip cancelled six days before arrival. He was told the cancellation occurred because he was “not on the electoral register”, which he denied.  O’Leary then attempted to re-book with Pontins which also refused him – his surname was on the now-notorious blacklist. O’Leary told Traveller Times that when he booked, “the man said the O’Leary name had flagged up on the computer and he wasn’t going to book the holiday. I asked why and he said I don’t have to tell you that.”

Louisa, who worked in the sales department of holiday provider Haven’s largest park in Devon during the early 2000s, alleges that if a family with a name on a list tried to book a trip at the site, they would be told not to take that booking and instead pass the caller on to the manager. Although some names on the alleged list were simply families known to have caused trouble in the past, many were claimed to be identifiably Irish Traveller surnames. 

Haven denies the allegations and told Byline Times it “has never been the policy at Haven to have a list of names that would discriminate against any of our guests and strongly refute any claim that we have done so, particularly claims from 20 years ago.”

“What they were trying to do was screen out Gypsy and Traveller families,” Louisa told Byline Times. “How it was told to us as staff was that these people are troublesome. We were told to listen out for their accents and to check their postcodes on the internet.”

This was before the launch of Google Maps but it was still possible to check postcodes on certain websites and identify if it was “a normal street” with residential homes as opposed to, for example, a workplace or site.

Louisa also claims she was told to listen out for people with a specific Irish Traveller accent when taking bookings. If someone with this “certain kind of accent” called to reserve a place on the site, she was expected to pass the call on to the manager, she told Byline Times. The calls with the manager would take place in a private office, not the main reception.

In response to the allegations made, Haven told Byline Times: “We pride ourselves on being inclusive. We would only look to exclude guests if they had displayed serious anti-social behaviour on a previous break or committed fraud against the company and would inform guests that we have taken the decision.”

More recently, guests at Haven Holiday camps have left reviews condemning the presence of Travellers in the parks. One review on TripAdvisor in 2016 wrote “if you must permit ‘Travellers’ on your site you should advise decent law-abiding families not to visit”. It went on to condemn Traveller communities in discriminatory terms, saying “don’t go to the touring area, it’s full of filthy, foul mouthed, thieving, Irish Travellers, who are never permitted onto any other campsites.”

The reviewer wrote that Haven responded to his complaint by saying “we cannot discriminate against anyone, it’s against the law.”

Another review of a Haven site wrote “the bad bits lots of gypsy’s [sic] on site in marked vans loud all times of the day and night vans in and out all the time.”

A Pattern of Discrimination 

Louisa has seen first-hand the discrimination and suspicion Travellers are met with when arriving at campsites and caravan parks. She and her family travel in a large, lorry-sized mobile home that is typical of the Showman Traveller community. 

“After you have made a booking online they check your postcode and call you up to try and detect if you sound like a Traveller,” Louisa claims. “They can’t ask you outright.”

If the booking isn’t cancelled by the campsite in advance and Louisa arrives, her family are met with suspicion. 

“When you arrive the staff are hostile,” she explains. “They remind you that you are only allowed to stay for three days and warn if you don’t leave on the third day they will call security. They ask you what you do for a living – not in a friendly or chatty manner but to try and learn something about you. They ask if any more of you are coming later. Is there a van coming? They ask where I come from, what my maiden name is – they’re just looking to find out if you are Gypsy or Traveller. No one is smiling. No one is welcoming.” 

Louisa says these are questions that other guests are not asked. 

“This has been going on for years,” she explains. “Travellers get friends to book for them now to avoid being blacklisted. When you pull up, people look at you and start to close up because you look like Travelling people. This is when the questions start.”

Byline Times contacted Pontins for a response. They had not replied by the time of publication.

*Names have been changed to protect identity

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