Hilton has refused to back down over its controversial decision to ban Cuban delegations from staying at its international hotels, despite confirmation that the policy breaks anti-discrimination laws.
The controversy arose last week, when a Cuban delegation's booking at a Hilton hotel in Norway was cancelled, because it would have broken the US trade embargo against the communist country.
Hilton, which confirmed that the policy covered the UK, argued that it was protecting its employees from fines and potential imprisonment.
But the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) warned that the hotel group would be acting unlawfully under the Race Relations Act by refusing to provide services to Cuban people at its UK properties.
"The act makes it unlawful to discriminate on racial grounds, which includes nationality, in the provision of goods, facilities or services," a CRE spokesman said.
A spokeswoman for Hilton said the situation had arisen in Europe only since the amalgamation of Hilton UK and US-based sister company Hilton Hotels Corporation last year.
"This is a new challenge for us," she said. "We are, of course, a non-discriminatory company and seek to trade within the laws of each country we operate in but we also have to protect our staff. Knowingly allowing a Cuban delegation to stay at our hotels could leave our staff open to personal fines and possible imprisonment, should they subsequently travel to the USA."
The spokeswoman stressed that the company was "very concerned" about the issue and was now in dialogue with the US Government over "the difficulty this ruling presents to our business and our reputation".
Dr Ian Gibson, MP for Norwich, who heads an all-party parliamentary group on Cuba, hit out at Hilton. "We should prevent the boycott of any Cubans into premises within the UK," he said. "It breaks discrimination laws and is very small-minded. A lot of people in this country are appalled by this and are now withdrawing their custom from Hilton."
Cuba embargo… The facts
The US embargo against Cuba began in early 1962, shortly after dictator Fidel Castro took power.
It prohibits US businesses from trading with Cuban interests and has been strengthened in the past decade to include the entire world, a move which has sparked protest in Europe and elsewhere.
A year ago, the US-owned Maria Isabel Sheraton hotel in Mexico expelled a Cuban trade delegation in order to comply with the embargo. The hotel was reportedly then fined $15,000 by the Mexican government for discriminating against the Cubans.
By Emily Manson