Inma Benito of the Majorca Hoteliers Federation with senior officials from Cehat at Berlin's ITB fair last year.


The patience of the Spanish hotel industry has run out. This was the clear message at the meeting in Madrid yesterday between leading representatives of the industry and representatives of Abta.

It was stated that action had been demanded against the massive increase in false compensation claims by UK holidaymakers a year ago and that little had been done. There were meagre measures, such as consumer information campaigns and a "timid" start to reform of consumer protection legislation in the UK, but the claims continued. The fear is that there will be even more this year.

It is estimated that more than 90% of claims received by tour operators are fraudulent and that they scam hotels. If these claims were genuine, then a health alert would have been raised. The British ambassador, Simon Manley, has himself said that if they were genuine, then Palma airport would have been closed in accordance with World Health Organization guidelines.

In fact, the genuine complaints are falling because of ever stricter controls on hygiene and safety by the Spanish hotel industry. Meanwhile, UK tour operators use their dominant position through contractual arrangements whereby hoteliers become financially liable for all types of claim. Settling claims from the outset is cheaper than dragging them through the courts, but the awards are still deducted from hotelier invoices to tour operators.

The industry has been highly critical of Abta, which says that the claims' operation is very well organised and very professional and that this makes it difficult to combat fraudulent practices. But this has been taken as an example of Abta's passivity in the affair.

Ramón Estalella, the general secretary of the Spanish hoteliers confederation Cehat, says that the hoteliers are not prepared to wait for long-term measures to be adopted by tour operators. They also have no immediate hope of legislative reform in the UK. The industry is therefore determined to defend its interests. It will prosecute all fraudsters in line with Spanish law, which will mean all of those in the chain, including holidaymakers. It is also considering bringing charges against groups that are organised for the committing of a crime - organised crime, in other words.

New contractual agreements with tour operators are to be modified and a procedure for managing claims is being demanded that will limit hotel liability to just those claims where there are medical reports to back them up.