British tourists who make fraudulent claims of food poisoning after going on all-inclusive trips to Spain have been warned they could face prosecution amid fears the increasingly prevalent scam is damaging the UK’s reputation abroad.
Spanish hoteliers are furious at the growing market in false insurance claims, saying it cost their industry €60m (£52m) last year alone.
According to the Spanish hotel owners association (CEHAT), cases of tourists on all-inclusive packages making false complaints of stomach problems have soared over the past 12 months, with tour operators in Mallorca reporting a 700% rise.
CEHAT estimates that the 90% of the claims usually made through small-claims management companies who target tourists in resorts or after they have returned home are bogus.
Part of the problem is that medical evidence of illness is seldom needed to make an insurance claim. The patience of the Spanish hotel industry is coming to an end, CEHAT said.
Twelve months after the first incidents of fraudulent claims were detected, no measures whatsoever have been put in place to reduce the number of cases. If anything, it’s been the other way round and businesses are saying enough is enough.
Were food poisoning really so widespread in Spanish hotels, it added, a worldwide health alert would have been declared and yet the number of cases registered with the health authorities continues to fall because of the increasingly high levels of quality, hygiene and safety put in place by the Spanish hotel industry.
A record 75 million tourists visited Spain last year, with British tourists making up the largest national grouping. As Spanish hoteliers prepare for another busy season, CEHAT is unveiling a series of measures to tackle the problem.
The situation is really worrying because of the volume of claims that we know what has been made and because of those we expect to be made this summer, secretary general of the organisation. We can’t wait for the kind of long-term measures being proposed by tour operators.
CEHAT says it will gather the necessary evidence to prosecute anyone involved in the fraud and use Spanish law to target organised groups in the commission of a crime. It is working to draw up a protocol so that hotels will pay out only if medical evidence is submitted as part of the claim.
A spokesman for the Association of British Travel Agents (Abta) said UK holidaymakers on all inclusive trips were being targeted by unscrupulous claims management companies.
They encourage people to submit claims by saying that they are entitled to compensation if they’ve been ill on one of these holidays, often coaching people into what to say, he said.
This risks causing severe damage to the reputation of UK holidaymakers overseas as we are the only nationality to submit false or exaggerated claims in any significant numbers.
Abta says anyone approached by a claims company representative in a resort should tell the hotel management.
If approached back in the UK through social media or on the phone and encouraged to lie or exaggerate their experiences, people should report them to the police.
This is out-and-out fraud which apart from damaging how we are viewed as a nation, runs the risk of putting up overseas holiday prices for everyone, said the spokesman.
Prosecution both here and overseas, if you put in a false or exaggerated claim, is a very real possibility as police forces will view this as a priority, particularly in countries where tourism is an important sector for their economy.
Of course if you have legitimately suffered food poisoning because of bad hygiene at your hotel, complain immediately, let the hotel and your tour operator know.
Do not wage claims after two to four years to do so as a large numbers of tourists are currently doing.