Hostelling Scotland and Serco (Caledonian Sleeper and Northlink Ferries) Update

In June 2018, one of our/ManFriday members put Hostelling Scotland’s policy of “regardless of transgendered status, we will book an accommodation based on how our guests choose to be recognised” to the test by checking into Inverness youth hostel as a self-identified man.  See our earlier report and the Inverness Courier article.

We are now pleased to report that Hostelling Scotland have recently confirmed that all their hostels provide female only accommodation.  See the email reply to an MSP enquiry:

Their website has been updated with a policy which reflects this position:

It is not, however, very clear what accommodation options are available for transgender guests and it would be beneficial if this could be more transparent on the online booking system.  A phone call to a youth hostel to check on the situation revealed that the identification shown by guests when checking in must match the sex given when booking the shared accommodation.  Photo ID is required, so either a passport or driving licence is expected to be shown on arrival.

This raises concerns for us as the identifying marker on a driving licence can be easily changed to the opposite sex by simple self-declaration.  See our earlier article about this:  Changing the sex given on passports is scarcely any more difficult.

Many women changed their travel plans in Scotland earlier this year due to safety and privacy concerns with Hostelling Scotland’s open policy.  It is appreciated that these concerns have been recognised, but it is important to acknowledge that the current position, while a significant step in the right direction, does not in reality, ensure female only accommodation.

We would like to see Hostelling Scotland commit to fully using the exceptions provided by the Equality Act 2010 which allow for female only accommodation, based on the protected characteristic of sex, which is lawful regardless of gender reassignment status.

We fully appreciate how difficult this is to implement in practice, and will only become more so if the Scottish Government go ahead with their plans to amend the Gender Recognition Act.

Earlier this year ManFriday highlighted that the overnight rail service between Scotland and London permitted male passengers who self-identified as women to travel in female-only compartments.

See the Scotsman article:

However, from 28 October 2018 Caledonian Sleeper have introduced a transitional booking system whilst they await delivery of new trains which only have single passenger cabins.  Shared accommodation for single travellers is no longer offered and the twin rooms on existing trains can now only be booked for exclusive use.


We are pleased that the privacy and safety concerns raised by women have now been resolved.

Serco Group plc is the parent company of Caledonian Sleeper and also operates Northlink Ferries, which offers an overnight service between Aberdeen and Lerwick. The cheapest way to travel, inclusive of onboard accommodation, is by booking a bed in a shared 4-berth cabin.  However, after the social media attention about the sleeper train, the online booking information was amended to state that cabins were allocated by ‘gender’ rather than by ‘sex’.  That is, all sleeping accommodation became mixed-sex.

This was clarified by one of our members during the summer holidays when she cancelled a booking for her and her daughter to visit Shetland after ferry staff could not guarantee that the two other passengers in the shared cabin would be female.

An MSP recently wrote to Serco who have confirmed that cabins are now booked on a single-sex basis.  See the email reply:

We are delighted that Serco have recognised the importance of single-sex accommodation to many of their customers and have changed their position accordingly.  As with Hostelling Scotland, however, we do still have concerns with defining the the sex ‘female’ as being that given on the photo ID shown when boarding the ferry.

Again, we would like to see Northlink Ferries commit to fully using the exceptions provided by the Equality Act.  An important first step would be to bring their website in line with the stated policy, as it currently still specifies same ‘gender’ rather than same ‘sex’ cabins.


And from the online booking process: contacted both Northlink Ferries and Hostelling Scotland on 16 November 2018 asking to meet and discuss the situation further – we are still awaiting a response from either organisation.