Accor and the Australian government have launched investigations following claims staff at a Northern Territory hotel routinely assign Aboriginal guests lower quality rooms.
The nation’s biggest hotel group said on Friday it was “extremely saddened and disappointed” at the revelations made in an ABC investigation about segregation at the ibis Styles Alice Springs Hotel Oasis.
Accor revealed it had speedily implemented staff “cultural training” after the investigation found management at the red centre property directed workers to put guests from remote Aboriginal communities into inferior, badly cleaned rooms.Minister for Indigenous affairs, Nigel Scullion, said the alleged policy “smacks of racism”, saying: “I’ll be ensuring that that’s acted on, because that sort of behaviour from Australian businesses is completely unacceptable.”.
The ABC’s Background Briefing investigation followed a tip off from an anonymous hotel employee about an internal email which outlined the unofficial policy of segregation.
“These rooms are to be referred to as community rooms and we will try to limit them to just that, those coming from the communities,” the email said.
“Reception ladies, please use a touch of initiative and allocate accordingly on arrival.”
The ABC sent in two groups of people to test the allegation – and the group of Aboriginal guests were check into the “community” rooms.
Photos and video of the rooms allegedly show them to be dirty and poorly maintained, with the ‘guests’ finding stained sheets and towels, broken glass, exposed wires around the skirting boards, and dried liquids on the windows and walls.
The $129 room tariff was the same as for as the other, cleaner rooms the ABC’s non-Indigenous guests were given.
“The floor still was dirty,” Gloriana, one of the women in the Indigenous group, told the ABC. “I went in the bathroom and saw chicken bones inside there [on the floor]. And some woman’s skirt was in there.”
Jo McKenzie, a manager at the hotel who was copied on the email, initially denied the policy.
“We have two room types – being standard rooms and superior rooms – and we allocate on how people book,” she told the ABC.
However, Accor later told the Guardian it had launched cultural training at the hotel, saying: “Since Accor was made aware of the matter raised on the ABC at ibis Styles Alice Springs Oasis, we have initiated an investigation into the allegations and are taking prompt and decisive action on this incident at the highest level.
“We are extremely saddened and disappointed by this as it completely goes against our values and track record as a company with over 17 years of engagement with our Indigenous community, through our leading Indigenous programs.
“Accor prides itself on being an inclusive organisation and has strict anti-discrimination policies and practices in place. It is our number one priority to ensure that we make every hotel employee and guest feel welcome, safe, valued and equal.”
While the story has prompted outrage across the country, Alice Springs residents say it is a spectre of everyday life in the Territory.
Sophie Trevitt, a lawyer with the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency, told the ABC clients reported the practice of separating Aboriginal guests was rife across the NT.
“It’s effectively a form of segregation within hotels and hostels,” she said.
Almost one-fifth of the population of Alice Springs is Indigenous, with the town serving as a major hub for the remote communities spread across the central desert region.
Racial Discrimination Commissioner for the Northern Territory, Sally Sievers, said her organisation was doing all that it could to tackle racism “within the framework that we operate”.
She explained that in the case of the ibis Styles, warning from the anonymous hotel insider would only be regarded as a tip-off, and without a formal complaint from someone directly affected by discrimination, the commission was unable to pursue the matter further.