Last week-end an article appeared in the Daily Telegraph, reporting a call for tougher sanctions on tour operators, where they send holidaymakers into hotels or resorts where it is known that there is an outbreak of illness. The report centred on the situation in Tenerife, where it was alleged that a large number of tourists had suffered illness.
Within the article we presented our position, something we have declared previously, that, where illness arises within a resort or hotel (and I also include ships, planes etc), there should be a statutory duty for that tour company to report that instance of illness to the local health authority and we suggest, to the health authority of the Member State in which the holidaymaker normally resides. In addition, where the tour company knowingly or recklessly sends a holidaymaker to such a location (and that holidaymaker has no knowledge of the problem or the problem is denied), and that holidaymaker becomes ill, the company should also be subject a statutory duty to prevent such an occurrence! We consider that a statutory duty created for both scenarios would increase public health and safety and that they should be subject to a criminal sanction in the event of any failure by any company.
Some may say that there is no precedent for the creation of a criminal offence against a tour company, that is not so. The Package Travel Regulations have within its provisions, several ‘criminal’ offences for failures on brochures, information to Consumers and so on. Why then, on such an important issue, do we not have the full protection of the law?
The report last week-end gave the impression that we had dealt with a large number of cases from Tenerife that was not the case – we had dealt with a large number of returning cruise holidaymakers suffering with illness, but we had received a small number of contacts from those primarily concerned about what they would experience in Tenerife! We were very well aware of the situation down there and that Solicitors in this country were dealing with returning holidaymakers reporting illnesses.
So the reaction from the travel industry was to claim that our position was ‘alarmist’! Wow, that was the nicest and kindest thing anyone in the Industry has said about me – I sense that love is in the air, it must be spring!
So, were we being alarmist; judge for yourselves? Since the article appeared, we have received a steady number of calls from concerned holidaymakers, highlighting their experience and their anger as to what had happened to them - the picture is building day by day.
I think it would be helpful to highlight one e mail we received which sets out the typical experience of holidaymakers. We have removed the names of the Tour Company, hotel and resort because we believe that they only serve as a distraction to the experience of this particular holidaymaker:
“My husband and I travelled with [NAME OF TOUR COMPANY] to Teneriffe, staying at the [NAME], Hotel from 31.1.10 to 14.2.10. This is in [NAME OF RESORT], close to the [NAME OF HOTEL] and also the [NAME OF HOTEL]. We had no idea that there was any problem in the area until my husband fell ill on Sunday 7.2.10. We got the Doctor immediately who, amongst other things, advised us to sleep with the French doors open in an effort to prevent my catching it also, as the bug is so contagious. The Hotel was exceedingly unhelpful. It took a great deal of persuasion to get them to provide simple, convalescent's food, and it took five hours and three 'phone calls to get them to send up disinfectant. When it finally arrived I was shown two bottles by a non-English speaking maid - one was fly spray!!!!
We told the [NAME OF TOUR COMPANY] rep., who said she was unaware of any such illness at our hotel, although she told us there was a problem at [NAME OF HOTEL]. We quickly discovered by talking to other guests that several others had been ill with the same gastric symptoms. Local café owners told us there had been a serious problem area since before Christmas. During the remainder of our stay we continued to meet guests who had either been down with it, or whose partners had got it. Several of us complained to the holiday rep, who appeared powerless to do anything.
We took our own hand gel, but still caught it - the hotel provided noting - apparently regulations stipulate that while Ships have to, hotels don't!
On the coach back to the airport the rep. said that if any of us felt unwell, just say and the coach would stop - so clearly they knew there was a significant problem. We did stop near [NAME OF TOWN] as one woman had been sick. The rep.asked if anyone had any water. This horrified us as clearly they did not have any way of even clearing up the sick, let alone disinfecting the coach. This is quite irresponsible - particularly as they clearly knew there was a problem. We also met one guest who had been ill shortly after arriving, and we wondered whether this could have been caught on the plane - with outgoing passengers using the same planes as returning ill passengers and no apparent disinfection taking place.
We claimed on our travel insurance, but were £50 out of pocket - that being the compulsory excess on our policy. We posted a review on [REVIEW WEBSITE] on our return and this week noticed that there are many reviews on that hotel which mention the "bug", so it is clearly very rife at that hotel.
We also posted a review on the [NAME OF TOUR OPERATOR] website, but interestingly that has not yet been posted. Indeed, there are no reviews of that hotel between December and March! I have e-mailed them to ask why my review has not appeared, but received the standard answer, stating that I will receive a reply in 28 days!
We have not bothered to complain to [NAME OF TOUR OPERATOR] [NOTE: WE HAVE ADVISED THIS HOLIDAYMAKER THAT SHE MUST WRITE A LETTER OF COMPLAINT TO THE TOUR OPERATOR!], partly because we don't think it would be worth the effort and partly because the extent of the problem is only now coming to light. However, we are happy to help with any campaign that will make Travel companies take seriously their responsibility for the health and welfare of their passengers”.
But it’s not just Tenerife that attracts attention; we have and continue to hear of other resorts in other countries such as Egypt, Turkey and Spain– one concerned parent has just written to us:
“URGENT dept 5/4/10 [NAME OF HOTEL]. Serious Health & Hygiene problem [WEBSITE] uk reporting claims for dysentary/Salmonella/typhoid. [NAME OF TOUR OPERATOR] saying ongoing investigation. Wont move us to another hotel says its too late saying no problem at hotel.. We are travelling with a 5yr old child and family. Tripadvisor reviews are all saying problem at hotel. [TOUR OPERATOR] will not recognise this. This is not speculation”
Can anyone hear any bells ringing?
Do these holidaymakers sound ‘alarmist’ to you – do our proposals now sound ‘alarmist’?
Let me be quite clear; many holidaymakers we have now spoken to, really love Tenerife and other Countries and resorts; I have been to Tenerife, its beautiful island! Holidaymakers would love to go back to these destinations but they feel that they can’t because of their ‘negative’ experience!
It’s quite simple really, if you have a health problem, in whatever country or resort – deal with it! That means being open about the problem, investigate that problem, publish the results – demonstrate that you are serious about providing a clean, safe and healthy resort; I would even suggest if it’s not safe or there is a threat to health, don’t send people there! After all, sustainable tourism is not just about planting more trees; it’s about treating all the players in the ‘holiday’ product fairly and with respect, so that the principle consumer of that product will want to return again and again!
I think that’s a fairly positive message, but if these type of problems continue, then the EU Commission or Westminster will need to consider the sanctions we propose!
Perhaps Tour Companies/Countries/Resorts would like to respond – perhaps the issue should be debated in the open? I am available – the holidaymakers are available – surely this deserves a public debate for the sake of the Consumer and the Industry?
Note: The film version of this blog can now be found on YouTube