Do the rules on package holidays offer adequate protection?

Mark MacKenzie reports

The recent deaths of two British children in a Corfu hotel room, and the charging of six hotel officials and a Thomas Cook employee by Greek prosecutors last Friday, brings to light, once again, the issue of hotel safety.

Ensuring accommodation overseas is properly maintained is something that has tended to prompt action only in the aftermath of tragedy. But in recent years the industry has worked hard to improve its preventative measures to keep holidaymakers safe.

European destinations account for around 80 per cent of package holidays taken by Britons, according to the Office for National Statistics, and yet as far as hotel safety is concerned codes of practice from country to country can vary significantly. So what assurances do consumers have?

"Health and safety is an issue very much on the British agenda, but that hasn't always been the case in other parts of Europe," says Andrew Cooper, a lawyer and director general of the Federation of Tour Operators (FTO), the industry body whose members account for around 70 per cent of the UK's package holiday market. In an attempt to rectify the problem, in 1992 the European Union introduced the Package Travel Directive, a piece of legislation designed to ensure hotels meet basic standards in their provision of health and hygiene services. Covering everything from clean bathrooms to clear fire escapes and secure hotel balconies it led, in turn, to the FTO issuing its Preferred Code of Practice, a set of checks and balances recognised today as some of the most stringent in the world.

"In the event of something going wrong," says Mr Cooper, "British operators are liable under British law. One problem we have is that the standards by which a hotel is judged are those of the country in which it is based."

Before the start of each season, Britain's major tour operators will carry out safety audits of their properties as a matter of routine. Despite this, problems remain on the ground.

"The issue is often one of implementation," explains Mark Harrington, managing director of Check Safety First, an independent company that advises the hotel industry on health and safety issues. "In Spain, for example, the regions are fairly autonomous and the implementation of laws can vary. If you think about how many apartments and properties exist [in popular destinations] it's quite a challenge to keep tabs on all of them all of the time."

It's a situation that could be about to get worse. The concept of "dynamic packaging", the separate selling of flights and accommodation, has boomed in recent years thanks in no small part to the internet. Earlier this month, a Court of Appeal ruling gave the major tour operators the go-ahead to dispense with the traditional package holiday and sell holidays dynamically. Critics of the decision fear that it will enable operators to shift liability to service providers - airlines and hotels - many of which will no longer fall under traditional bonding schemes, such as those operated by the Abta, the Association of British Travel Agents, or Atol - Air Travel Organisers' Licensing.

"Allowing operators to unbundle their packages and sell the component parts individually means they are no longer obliged to provide financial protection if incidents do occur," explains Sue Ockwell of the Association of Independent Tour Operators (Aito).

"If something happens, you're faced with suing the hotelier through their [local] courts." Ms Ockwell is concerned that when consumers buy online, any saving might represent a false economy. "It doesn't occur to many people that where they're staying might never have been inspected, even for something as simple as the beds being missing from the room."

Ms Ockwell argues that "effectively, liability is being shifted to the consumer", a concern shared by Mr Cooper: "FTO members have spent a lot of time and money improving hotel safety, and there are now a lot of vendors securing [rooms] without necessarily making the same level of checks. That must expose those buying these programmes to some risk."

Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine