Early last week, it was reported that Cehat, the Spanish hoteliers confederation, had sent a stern letter to UK tour operators regarding false holiday compensation claims. Tui, Thomas Cook, Jet2 and Monarch were left in no doubt that Spain's hoteliers were sick and tired both of the claims and of the system by which tour operators deduct claims' amounts from hotelier invoices. The confederation has also suspected that tour operators simply don't do enough. It was therefore warning that "commercial relations" could be damaged if there wasn't firmer action.
The hoteliers, included among them the Mallorca Hoteliers Federation, have to an extent been playing to the gallery for Spanish public consumption. While it is obvious that UK legislation needs to be reformed (and will be eventually), tour operators aren't to blame for a system which makes it so easy for claims to be made. Moreover, although there is contractual small print which allows tour operators to make deductions from invoices, it hasn't been the case that tour operators have just been rolling over and accepting the situation with the claims. Jet2's initiative with private detectives is a case in point.
Nevertheless, the hoteliers are fully justified in being angry, so more is now emerging of how tour operators are reacting. Tui has admitted that the volume of claims has gone up by 1400% over the past two years. Nick Longman, Tui UK and Ireland's managing director, has told Travel Weekly that the claims are "a massive problem for us; a huge problem for the industry". These are not the words of a senior executive lying down and accepting the situation.
Blacklisting customers is nothing new. Tour operators have a long history of doing this, especially if customers have tried it on in making specious compensation claims. Hoteliers have also had blacklists for the very same reason. The blacklisting is now being done in a more thorough fashion, certainly by Tui. In addition, the company is sending letters to those who set out on a claims process and is warning that they will be liable if claims are dismissed. It won't be the claims farming companies which put them up to making the claims who are charged with fraud; it will be their clients.
Longman says that some 50% of the letters have resulted in claims being dropped. Tui is now sending out more letters. Meanwhile, it is understood that police in the UK are becoming active in investigating potential fraud and are working with tour operators. So, far from being as inactive as the hoteliers have been alleging, it is the tour operators who have taken matters into their own hands and appear to be having some success.
The national secretary of state for tourism, Matilde Asián, has been telling hoteliers to be more proactive in denouncing the presence of claims farmers. If they are aware of vehicles or individuals outside their establishments, they are being encouraged to report them to the prosecution service. She says that more is being done to curb their activities but "more should be done". The fraudulent claims, she adds, are "putting Spain's image at risk".
It may or may not have been hotelier proactivity that helped to get the Guardia Civil involved, but they are. Two Britons have been arrested in Alcudia, accused of inciting holidaymakers to lodge false claims. Not so long ago, there were two British women hanging around outside a chemist's shop (as well as Bellevue and Club Mac) approaching holidaymakers.
This is the way to go. Or one way. Conspiracy to incite others to commit a crime. Well done, the Guardia.