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Thrill-seeking tourists fall foul of insurers

The British abroad are becoming a nation of daredevils. Insurance companies specialising in cover for hazardous activities are reporting a dramatic increase in the number of holidaymakers who want to flirt with danger for a fortnight.

Be it white-water rafting, free-falling, riding inflatable bananas or bobsleighing, the British, particularly high-earning males in their late twenties, are acquiring an appetite for vacation recreations risking life and limb.

The enthusiasm for adventure sports was highlighted last week when Gareth Griffiths, a 27-year-old management consultant from London, fell to earth following an attempted parachute tandem free-fall in Florida. His instructor, Michael Costello, was killed in the accident. But despite the obvious dangers, more and more Britons are signing up for the sport. The British Parachute Association now has 5,000 regular and 10,000 part-time jumpers - an increase of 1,000 and 3,000 respectively since 1991.

Two years ago Andrew Blowers, a keen parachutist, set up Inter Assurance, a travel insurance company specialising in sporting activities, because he could not find cover for his aerial exploits. In the past year he has seen a 30 to 40 per cent increase in demand for policies.

Malcolm Tarling, of the Association of British Insurers, said there was a move among travel insurers to exclude dangerous sports because safety measures abroad were "nowhere near" the standard in this country.

"The problem is that travel insurance policies have evolved from a time when people went on holiday and did the things they did in this country, but at a slower pace," said Mr Tarling. "They were not designed for people going abroad and getting involved in hazardous sports. Years ago the only thing that was available was parascending on the beach. Now you've got parascending, jet skiing... you name it, there's some kind of dangerous activity available.

"Paragliding over water is amazingly popular this year in resorts in Spain and Cyprus but scuba diving is still the most popular," he said.

Whereas STA excludes a host of activities, including ballooning, deep- sea diving, gliding, hang-gliding, parachuting, bungee jumping, ski jumping, bobsleighing, ice hockey, self-defence sports, solo sea-sailing or any pastime involving exceptional risk of accident, Mr Blowers insists there are "very few things that we wouldn't cover under our standard premium".

Big game hunting, go-karting, white-water rafting and scuba diving are included in Mr Blowers' standard rate. But his exclusion list includes abseiling, bobsleighing, hang-gliding, motor sports, pot-holing and rock climbing.

It is essential that adventurous tourists read the small print of insurance policies before setting sail. Often there is an exclusion clause for adventure sports. Mr Blowers said: "It's the last thing one thinks about. You're away on holiday, you see some sport happening on the beach and think you'll have a crack at it. The last thing you do is dig out your policy, but if worst comes to worst you could find there wasn't any cover."