Spain’s ho­tels fight against fake food poi­son­ing claims

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Span­ish ho­tels are turn­ing to pri­vate de­tec­tives and the courts to re­pel a surge in fake food poi­son­ing claims by Bri­tish hol­i­day­mak­ers that has al­ready cost them mil­lions of euros. The num­ber of food sick­ness claims soared to more than 10,000 dur­ing the 2016-17 tourist sea­son, from around just 600 in 2015-16, said the head of Spain’s ho­tel con­fed­er­a­tion CEHAT, Ra­mon Estalella.

It es­ti­mates that more than 90 per­cent of the claims-usu­ally made through small­claims man­age­ment com­pa­nies that prom­ise pay­outs of sev­eral thou­sand pounds-are bo­gus. For years Bri­tons have been the big­gest group of tourists to Spain by na­tion­al­ity. Estalella said they are re­spon­si­ble for vir­tu­ally all of the fake ill­ness claims. The prob­lem has arisen be­cause Bri­tish con­sumer law does not re­quire claimants to pro­duce any med­i­cal ev­i­dence of ill­ness, and claims can be filed up to three years af­ter a stay at a ho­tel, he said.

“If the law was the same in Germany, Spain or France, I am cer­tain that peo­ple from there would do the same,” Estalella told AFP. Ho­tels com­plain that Bri­tish claims man­age­ment com­pa­nies openly tout for busi­ness in Span­ish re­sorts, promis­ing not to charge any fees if no even­tual dam­ages are paid out. An am­bu­lance em­bla­zoned with the words “Claims Clinic” was last year pic­tured driv­ing around Tener­ife on Spain’s Ca­nary Is­lands, where more than one in three tourists is Bri­tish. The to­tal value of the fake claims made dur­ing the 2016/17 sea­son amounted to more than 100 mil­lion euros ($115 mil­lion), Estalella said.

Over 100 gin and ton­ics

In the past ho­tels tended to set­tle the claims be­cause the cost of fight­ing them in a Bri­tish court would be far higher over­all. But they have adopted a harder line as the num­ber of claims has soared. Ho­tel rep­re­sen­ta­tives met with of­fi­cials from the Bri­tish em­bassy in May and shortly af­ter the For­eign Of­fice in London up­dated its travel ad­vice to warn that fraud­u­lent claimants in Spain could face pros­e­cu­tion.

Po­lice ar­rested a Bri­tish man on the hol­i­day is­land of Mal­lorca in June, and placed another un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion, on sus­pi­cion of tar­get­ing tourists out­side ho­tels and en­cour­ag­ing them to make bo­gus claims. They opened their probe af­ter re­ceiv­ing a dossier from a law firm hired by the Club Mac re­sort in Puerto Al­cu­dia in north­ern Mal­lorca. The file in­cluded ev­i­dence com­piled by pri­vate de­tec­tives.

It fea­tured pho­to­graphs and other doc­u­ments that could dis­prove food poi­son­ing claims made by al­most 1,000 Bri­tish clients of the re­sort’s three ho­tels, said Carolina Ruiz, the lawyer at Mon­lex Abo­ga­dos, who is han­dling the case. The bar re­ceipts of one man who claimed his hol­i­day was ru­ined be­cause he fell sick from the food at the allinclu­sive re­sort show he drank over 100 gin and ton­ics while on hol­i­day there, she told AFP. “If he was sick it was not be­cause of food poi­son­ing at the ho­tel, it was for other rea­sons,” Ruiz said iron­i­cally. Po­lice said the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is con­tin­u­ing and they have not ruled out fur­ther ar­rests in what is the big­gest crim­i­nal probe to date against fake ill­ness claims brought about by a com­plaint from a ho­tel group, Ruiz said.

‘They will fin­ish us’

Some Span­ish ho­tels are turn­ing the ta­bles and launch­ing law­suits of their own against peo­ple who make fraud­u­lent sick­ness claims. The Pon­derosa Apart Ho­tel in Tener­ife in May filed a law­suit for defama­tion against a Bri­tish man who al­legedly faked be­com­ing sick, as well as against the law firm that han­dled his case.

“We have to stop them and if the way to do it is through the courts, we should do it. Other­wise they will fin­ish us,” the ho­tel’s di­rec­tor told re­porters at the time. What the Span­ish ho­tel sec­tor wants most of all is a change in Bri­tish law to make it harder to make fake food poi­son­ing claims. “If there was a change in the law, this would end,” Estalella said. — AFP

TENER­IFE: This file photo taken on July 10, 2017 shows Hol­i­day mak­ers stroll through the tourist zone south of Tener­ife on Spain’s Ca­nary is­land. —AFP

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