There is further news from Abta, the Association of British Travel Agents, and this has to do with the rise in the number of "ambulance-chasing" holiday illness claims. This is an issue that was highlighted in the summer, initially in the Canaries and subsequently in Majorca. The hoteliers federation here listed law firms in the UK (all of them in the north-west of England in the Liverpool and Manchester area) who were involved in "encouraging" tourists to lodge fake claims for food poisoning and gastric complaints. This list has not been made public; at the Bulletin we have seen a copy of the communication the federation sent out. Their "agents" were operating predominantly at well-known and large all-inclusive complexes in Alcudia, Magalluf and elsewhere.
The local media, in particular the travel media, has been following this story closely, and it has picked up on a report from the UK's TTG (Travel Trade Gazette) which says that Abta is to meet with the justice ministry to discuss the "worrying rise" in the number of these claims. Lawyers' letters are being sent to travel agencies as well as to tour operators, with demands being made based on "very little evidence", says the TTG report.
This also highlights the fact that small travel businesses are being targeted in the belief that claims will not be challenged. The report quotes a partner at TravLaw who says that what has always been a "big" problem has now become a "huge" problem.
Last week, Inma Benito, the president of the Majorca Hoteliers Federation, attended a meeting with tour operators in London to discuss the matter. Also in attendance were Ramón Estalella, the general secretary of Cehat, the national confederation of hoteliers, and Nuria Montes from Hosbec, the hoteliers association in Benidorm and the Costa Blanca.
Something which emerged from that meeting was that the firms doing the pursuing of claims aren't necessarily law firms at all. They are "specialists" in "claims farming" who hand on the claims to lawyers. They have a background in having pressed claims in other sectors, such as banking and car insurance, but have now moved into holiday claims in a major way. Estalella noted that more than 200 claims had been made against one hotel alone. He also pointed out that UK law allows claims to be made for up to three years with the burden of proof (to refute the claims) placed on the hotel. Very little evidence is actually needed to press claims. Ones made in Majorca have needed a simple receipt from a chemist's for the purchase of imodium.
The Spanish Embassy in London has sent a formal letter of complaint to the Bar Council, demonstrating that the issue is now reaching governmental levels. Abta is now also involved with government in seeking ways of eradicating the practice.
Meanwhile, lawyers for hoteliers in Majorca have been working on the drafting of a new protocol to be included in contracts with tour operators. Currently, there are very few challenges made by tour operators in UK courts, as contracts stipulate that claims are met by hotels, and the amounts are typically subtracted from invoices hotels submit to tour operators. The actual amounts can vary but are typically between 1,000 and 2,000 euros.
This fraudulent practice is also likely, says Estalella, to have an impact on the overwhelming majority of honest UK tourists. Faced with increased prices next year because of other reasons, the cost of insurance is likely to also rise in order to cover the cost of claims.
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