Tourism

Hotels fight back against fake food poisoning claims

Laine Fullerton

The travel industry is fighting back an epidemic of false food poisoning claims from the British.

We wish we were just ‘pretending’ to be sick too, but it turns out food has an expiration date.

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The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) said there were around 35,000 gastric sickness claims by British holidaymakers in 2016, a 500 per cent rise since 2013.

Majority of the complaints were reported by claims management companies who cold call tourists once they arrive home.

Previously, a loophole allowed dodgy claims management firms to levy unlimited legal costs for incidents that take place overseas.

Tour operators fighting the claims have therefore had to pay costs well out of proportion to the damages.

As per The Guardian, Mark Tanzer, chief executive of ABTA said: “Fake claims have been costly to the travel industries in the UK and popular overseas destinations and damaged the reputation of British holidaymakers abroad.”

“Some hotels in Spain and Turkey were even considering closing their doors to British tourists.”

Other hoteliers have warned they will pull holiday deals from the UK market.

Claim firms suggested that a receipt for Imodium, a common over-the-counter treatment for diarrhoea, was sufficient enough to launch a claim.

Many hoteliers preferred to settle to avoid hassle, and the government estimates the hospitality industry has paid out at least £240 million (about $426,792,932 AUD), with hotels in Mallorca alone paying out £42 million (about $74,725,773 AUD) in 2016.

But in order to save the sanity and livelihood of the travel industry, there has been a concerted legal fightback before the peak of this year’s summer season.

As per the BBC News, the UK government asked the Civil Procedure Rule Committee, which is responsible for setting rules on legal costs, to consider bringing package holiday claims under the same rules as personal injury claims, which has since come in to effect.

The new law limits the costs firms can command for making holiday sickness claims.

Travel agents are also urging the government to ban cold calls to tourists, as they encourage people to make a claim.

According to The Guardian, Horwich Farrelly, a firm which helps travel companies contest claims, has already seen a significant decline in the number of claimants being paid out.

Mark Hudson, head of counter fraud at Horwich Farrelly said: “We’ve been knocking these back by the bucketful for months and months.”

“What we are seeing is that the vast majority of these claims are just nonsense.”

“Most of these people were not ill in any way. Many really didn’t even know the claims were being brought on their behalf.”

The Solicitors Regulation Authority confirmed that they were seeing firms pursue claims without proper instructions from claimants.

Claimants are also being caught out by the likes of CCTV footage and witnesses.

As per Cyprus Mail, a British holidaymaker to Cyprus was initially granted £6,000 (about $10,675 AUD) in compensation after claiming he suffered food poisoning at his Protaras hotel, but has since been ordered by a UK court to pay the money back to his tour operator after his ex-girlfriend produced sufficient evidence to prove he was not sick.

The 23-year-old was found on camera dancing ‘Gangnam style’ as well as relaxing by the pool in photos at the time he was allegedly sick.

His ex-girlfriend who had been on holidays with him turned the evidence in after she became upset when she found out he lied about being ill and filed a claim against Jet2holidays.

And paying back the money is not the worst punishment, with a couple from Merseyside jailed last year after making fraudulent sickness claims relating to holidays in Mallorca in 2015 and 2016.

UK Justice Minister Rory Stewart said: “Claiming compensation for being sick on holiday, when you haven’t been, is fraud.”

“This damages the travel industry and risks driving up costs for holidaymakers. This behaviour also tarnishes the reputation of British people abroad.”

“That is why we are introducing measures to crack down on those who engage in this dishonest practice,” he added.

The new measures in place are expected to significantly reduce the number of successful claims this summer after its peak in 2016.

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