TRAVEL CLINIC: Are children's clubs worthwhile?

Your questions answered by our panel of travel experts, including a doctor and a lawyer

Do you have any experience of the free "children's clubs" run by big tour operators. We have heard conflicting reports?

Wing Cdr J. Palmer

Wimbledon

Jill Crawshaw replies: for readers not aware of these clubs, some of the larger tour operators such as Thomson, Airtours, Cosmos, First Choice and others run free clubs, largely for the under 12s in popular family resorts such as Cala d'Or, Sa Coma, Alcudia and Puerto Pollensa in Mallorca, Es Cana, Cala Longa and Portinatx in Ibiza, Benidorm and Salou in mainland Spain, in lots of resorts in family-friendly Minorca and the Algarve, and increasingly in some of the Canaries, Tunisia, Greece and Turkey.

I can't imagine who invented the names they use; First Choice have come up wlth Nippers for the 3-6 year olds, Surf-Seekers for 7-11's and Beach Rounds for the 12-15's, with Inspirations it's the Roaring House Club for 3-6's and the Ministry of Fun for 7-12's. Panorama's 3-7 year olds are known as the Sunshine Gang, the 8-12's the Explorers. Thomson Holidays, one of the pioneers is rather prosaic with Tiny T's from 0-3, Little T from 4-7, Big T for 8-12's.

All these follow roughly the same pattern: Children's Reps or Hostesses, often disillusioned teachers or nurses with professional qualifications such as NNEB organise a couple of hours of activities on six days a week, and two hours in the evening three times a week. Activities may include face painting, fancy dress and sandcastle competitions, nature trails, mini olympics, discos and so on.

Run properly these clubs should keep children safe, happy and entertained, allowing parents welcome breaks for their own pursuits. Well, that's the theory, anyway.

Unfortunately when Holiday Which? inspected 36 clubs in Majorca, the Algarve and Corfu, their conclusions were that a quarter of them had safety problems, and about half were just plain boring. In the worst examples, clubs were held on a pavement next to a hotel service road, or in a dimly lit bar open to the public. Nineteen of the clubs had unsatisfactory premises, and in some the tour reps had no idea where their charges were. Seven clubs had inadequate supervision.

Eight clubs of the 36 had fun activities designed to suit the various ages, and twelve had safe and well equipped rooms.

The findings were sent to the tour operators who said they would review their arrangements. Tour Operators I approached all said they had taken on board the criticisms and set much stricter guidelines.

This year I have so far visited two clubs; a Thomson Club in Ibiza and a Panorama Club in Tunisia, and was satisfied that the children were well cared for.

Ultimately, whatever the promises, it is up to the parents to make rigorous checks themselves, on the spot. Question the qualifications of the staff and the numbers of children they are expected to supervise. Ask to see the premises and a programme of activities. I also suggest dropping in unannounced from time-to-time.

Before you go, you can ask the tour firms for name and addresses of families who have made use of these clubs previously - except of course they're not likely to give you any contact with people who were dissatisfied.

It would be nice to be able to be 100 per cent sure that all will be well before you even book - but that obviously can't be guaranteed. So you'll have to just keep your eyes open; better so than sorry.

Jill Crawshaw is a travel expert, writer and broadcaster.

BITE-SIZED ADVICE

I'm flying to Peru on 3 June for two months. I've had the usual injections but I'm getting conflicting reports as to whether I should take a course of anti-malaria pills.

Some people have advised me not to bother, because they are ineffective against some strains of malaria, and because Peru is not a malaria hot- spot. I'm going to the south of the country, and into Bolivia as well.

Should I: a) take the pills; b) take a mini-course in suspect regions (eg. jungle areas), or; c) not bother with them?

Charlie Taylor

Dublin

Dr Larry Goodyer replies:

There is indeed some danger of contracting malaria in Peru throughout the year if visiting rural areas below 1,500 metres. The type is generally the form vivax malaria, which is different from the falciparum malaria found in sub-Saharan African.

Vivax is a variety of a so-called 'benign' malaria which, while rarely fatal to healthy people, can be unpleasant and if not treated properly can recur for years. It has not developed much resistance to drugs such as chloroquine.

This contrasts to falciparum malaria which can be rapidly fatal; in some cases death can occur as soon as 24 hours after non-specific symptoms. Travellers, unlike the indigenous population, will have no resistance. Chloroquine is not usually effective against this malaria on its own. Combining chloroquine with the anti-malarial, proguanil, used to be enough to overcome resistant strains, but in some world regions even this is ineffective.

Falciparum is found in some border areas of Peru. The recommended regimen is weekly chloroquine and daily proguanil, beginning a week before entering a malaria area and continuing four weeks after leaving. Follow the same regimen in Bolivia. Check your trip with a travel clinic to find the right regimen. No malarial drug is fully effective so take precautions against being bitten.

Dr Larry Goodyer is superintendent of the Nomad Pharmacy (3-4 Turnpike Lane, London N8, Tel: 0181-889 7014) which specialises in catering for travellers' medical needs.

WHAT IS THE LOGIC BEHIND MEDICAL INSURANCE?

Could you please explain why it is necessary to have medical insurace as well as E111 cover when on holiday in Europe, with particular reference to Spain?

J. Henshall

Pembrokeshire

Julie Philpott of Columbus Travel Insurance explains: The E1 11 medical system entitles British holidaymakers to free or low-cost medical treatment in Europe. Treatment received is the equivalent to the other country's state health care system but there are no common guidelines setting a standard level of service.

Holidaymakers should be extremely cautious about the travel insurance offered by the E1 11 system. The idiosyncrasies and bureaucracy of foreign health-care make the system unworkable in most cases. Medical cover is limited to emergency treatment at state run hospitals only and will not cover the cost of bringing a person home in the unfortunate event of a fatality or serious illness needing care in the UK.

The Department of Health's own leaflet, "Health advice for travellers", acknowledges that the cover provided by the E1 11 is often not sufficient. It states that "travellers are strongly advised to take out full medical insurance to cover the cost of the treatment. Even in countries with which the UK has health-care agreements, you will need a certain amount of insurance".

In Spain in particular, state hospitals are relatively few. In most resorts it is a standard practice to be taken to a private clinic - patients are rarely given the choice when being rushed off for treatment. Even when they are lucky enough to be taken to a state hospital, the patient can still be expected to pay about 40 per cent of all medicines prescribed for their condition.

In addition the E1 11 system deals with health care alone and will not cover loss of luggage and all the other features of standard travel insurance policies.

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