Are Tour Operators doing enough to stop Outbreaks of Holiday Illness?


Simpson Millar LLP’s holiday claims department are increasingly concerned about the apparent lack of hygiene systems implemented in hotel’s by the UK’s major tour operators including Thomas Cook, First Choice and Thomson Holidays.

Hotel Buffet Food

Tour operators and their hotel suppliers have a duty to exercise reasonable skill and care when they provide a holiday and should take steps to reduce the chances of there being an illness outbreak.

When a claim is made against a tour operator, unless liability is admitted, the tour operator should disclose evidence to show what steps were taken to ensure that hygiene standards were maintained. All too often however, the operator will refuse or claim to be unable to provide all or any of the documents we would hope to see.

Avoiding Duties and Responsibilities

Tour operators are known to evade or avoid disclosure by claiming that they have no access to records held by their hotel suppliers, despite continuing to sell holidays to the hotels in question and having representatives based in or around the hotels.

Thomas Cook and TUI UK (the parent company of First Choice and Thomson’s) should be well aware that the risk of an illness outbreak can be drastically reduced by the implementation of a HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) system. Evidence of any such system is rarely provided to us on request.

In our view, any hotel providing all-inclusive meals or snacks should have a documented hygiene system in place and should be able to evidence this by producing relatively basic documents. Typically, we would expect a tour operator to be able to provide documents including:

  • Regular hygiene/food/cleanliness audits
  • Food temperature records (for hot, cold, frozen and chilled food)
  • Food storage records
  • Swimming pool cleaning/treatment records
  • Cleaning procedures and cleaning records
  • Staff hygiene training records
  • A documented illness outbreak procedure

Examples of tour operators failing to disclose basic documents are plentiful. In one ongoing matter TUI UK Limited has failed to provide a single document after 15 months of investigations.

In another ongoing matter concerning a well-publicised outbreak of illness at a hotel provided by Thomas Cook, no hotel documents have disclosed despite the company being notified of potential claims as far back as August 2013.

Greater Transparency Needed

The reluctance to disclose documents is worrying and we can only speculate as to why this reluctance exists. Is it the case that these documents reveal hygiene failings that the tour operators do not want us to see? Or is it the case that hotels are simply failing to implement or carry out these basic hygiene procedures and therefore putting holidaymakers’ health and livelihoods at risk?

Simpson Millar LLP is calling for greater transparency in the industry, taking the view it should be mandatory for tour operators and their hotel suppliers to keep and maintain basic hygiene records, making them accessible upon request. If hotels are truly acting diligently and responsibly then we can see no reason to keep such documents private. Surely a hotel that can show it is well run and takes its hygiene responsibilities seriously will attract extra bookings and extra revenue.

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