Monarch is the latest big operator to back the Fight Fake Claims campaign. Ben Ireland spoke to its chief executive
Q. How quickly has the number of claims spiralled?
A. In 2015 we had 96 claims, and in 2016 we had 462, which is a near-400% increase. It’s a phenomenal rise. It’s still a small percentage in the big scheme of things, but our industry and customers are being criticised by overseas hotels.
Q. So who is to blame?
A. Claims management companies have piled in and that’s led to the increase. There’s some very aggressive advertising, lots of social media activity and cold calling, and we’ve seen stands in shopping centres in the UK as well as touts in resorts. It’s not as if European hygiene has got worse or British stomachs have got weaker.
Q. What can we do to stop or cut the number of false claims?
A. It could be very easily changed if the government closed the fixed-claims loophole. It would be quite a light-touch solution. It’s clear that when things go into a fixed-cost regime [as personal injury claims made in the UK did in 2013] then the claims companies no longer regard it as lucrative, just as we saw with whiplash claims. It’s actually easier for consumers to claim direct now as well, which is a good thing. We want it to be straightforward.
Q. How does the industry warn holidaymakers?
A. A lot of holidaymakers don’t realise that the consequences of making a fake claim can be huge. Many are told they have nothing to lose, but they can lose everything and could be entering into a legal battle with a large corporation. We support Travel Weekly in this campaign and I’m sure it will help get everybody focused on resolving it.
Q. Some hoteliers are threatening to pull out of selling all-inclusive, or to British customers. Have any of your partner hotels gone that far?
A. None have gone that far yet, but some have certainly been talking about it. They are very concerned, and legitimately so. I sympathise, but British holidaymakers are getting a bad name and the industry needs to nip this in the bud quickly. It’s an own goal for the British travel industry but if we all act together, we can find a solution.
Q. What can operators do?
A. We are taking a very robust approach to every claim. We are asking the hotels for evidence of what the clients were doing. It could be CCTV, which they are happy to give to us. People will not find Monarch a soft touch. I sympathise with smaller operators who might have fewer resources, but I believe that as an industry we have to discourage this by speaking with one voice.
Q. Where are you seeing the problem?
A. The problem seems to be much bigger in Spain, but it’s not exclusively a Spanish problem. We’ve seen an increase in Turkey too. The reason it’s increased so much in Spain is because of the increases in capacity.
Q. Do the recent arrests in Spain show that the authorities are taking this seriously?
A. The National Fraud Authority is increasingly getting involved and is actively pursuing some claims. People’s social media history is available to the police. Gastric illness is the latest favourite child of the claims companies, but once we close the loophole they will find another one.
Q. How big an issue could this snowball into if we don’t act?
A. It’s only British claims, so hotels don’t have to take the risk when they could sell to customers from Germany, the Netherlands or Scandinavia. They could simply say no to Brits. Especially in the context of Brexit, we have to put our best foot forward with our European partners or else they won’t see us as a strong partner. We have to stand together so we don’t become an unattractive outbound market.
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