Fake food poisoning claims cost Spanish hotels millions

Levante Beach in Benidorm, Spain. Photo: Getty//PoppyPixels (Benidorm, Spain Levante Beach)

HOSBEC, the hotel association of Benidorm, Spain's seaside resort area, estimates that British guests cost Spanish hotels some €60 million in fake food poisoning compensation last year.

The organisation has brought in the rule that sufferers must produce a prescription that proves a diagnosis and is calling for other resorts to follow suit, as Spain continues to see a surge in holiday-makers seeking sun and sanctuary from the country’s terror-hit neighbours.

HOSBEC President Antoni Mayor told the local press: “There can be no sense of impunity because it is a problem that we cannot allow to go any further. It is not just something that is happening in Benidorm or the Costa Blanca, but something that is affecting the entire sector.”

UK Response

The end of last year saw the UK government amend its guidance on travel to Spain, adding a warning: "There have been reports of a rise in claims companies targeting holiday-makers at resorts in Spain inviting them to make false insurance claims regarding holiday sickness," it said. "Making a fraudulent insurance claim is illegal and a criminal offence in Spain and can incur penalties such as heavy fines and imprisonment.”

The latest comments from HOSBEC were followed by a statement from Simon Bunce, head of legal services at ABTA, the UK travel association, last week, which said that the organisation had written a letter to Boris Johnson, the UK foreign secretary, “to highlight the negative impact the claims are having on the reputation of UK holiday-makers and travel companies’ relationships with overseas suppliers,” Bunce said, adding that “The Ministry of Justice is listening to our concerns and has asked for further data about the volume and average costs of claims, which we are currently compiling and will present to them shortly.”

Bunce added that The Claims Management Regulator in the UK also announced it was conducting an investigation, as well as the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority, which was working to ensure solicitors were not paying illicit fees to claims management companies for referrals.  

While the authorities in the UK were looking to rein in the poor behaviour of some citizens, the fall of sterling was likely to see some think twice about overseas travel. In contrast, the strengthening of the dollar contributed to an increase in outbound U.S. travel to Europe of 6.9 percent year-to-date to November last year.

With a compensation culture embedded in the U.S., but a comparative newcomer to the UK, this could raise fears of increased legal action. "Guest compensation claims should be covered by insurance. But often either hotels do not want to pass smaller claims on to insurers for fear that their premiums will increase, or else insurers would rather pay out small claims than spend time and money contesting those they suspect may be fake. These responses can encourage more fraudulent claims in the long term. Action such as this will help minimise fraudulent claims, but at the expense of making claims difficult for those who do have genuine complaints,” said Thomas Page corporate partner, CMS, global head of the hotels & leisure group. “Whilst U.S. claimants may be more likely to claim larger amounts for genuine complaints, there is nothing to suggest that an increasing number of U.S. visitors to Spain are likely to make significant numbers of fraudulent claims.”

Katherine Doggrell is an editor at Hotel Analyst, the U.K.-based news analysis service for hotel investors.