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Thomas Cook: some good work on holiday safety, but could try harder

The Man Who Pays His Way: 'The headline reads “Health & Safety”, and if that isn’t enough to put you off, it uses a font size smaller than an e-coli bacterium'

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Friday 11 May 2018 11:00 BST

Thomas Cook has done more than most travel firms to tackle the fake holiday-sickness industry. This scurrilous profession picks up where false whiplash claims left off. Cold calls invite returned holidaymakers to “remember” that their trip was ruined by illness due to poor hygiene standards in an all-inclusive resort or aboard a cruise ship.

A couple from Merseyside claimed nearly £20,000 from Thomas Cook for suffering “severe gastric illness” on two successive holidays to the same resort in Mallorca. The travel firm tracked down the claimants’ Facebook postings describing the first trip as “fab” and the second as “fantastic”, then took legal action of its own.

After the pair were jailed for fraud, thousands of other claims melted away — including those which began when touts in resorts persuaded holidaymakers to make fake claims.

Now Thomas Cook is earning money from the genuine holiday-sickness industry.

Page 100 of its new inflight magazine, Holiday, carries two advertisements. The first, from a company in the Dominican Republic called Hospiturs, begins: “Travelling to Punta Cana? If you’re worried about getting sick while travelling, don’t worry we’ll take take care of it.”

Below it, the Evangelismos Hospital in Paphos on the island of Cyprus promises “24/7 Emergency Services Doctor’s On Call” (I hope the medical staff are trained to remove unwanted apostrophes).

On the basis that prevention is better than cure, though, I urge you to turn to the previous page.

At first glance, the article on page 99 looks designed to dissuade anyone from reading it, even if they are into hour 10 of a flight to Punta Cana and bored out of their skulls.

The headline reads “Health & Safety”, and if that isn’t enough to put you off, it uses a font size smaller than an e-coli bacterium.

The prescription for a trouble-free holiday begins with the screamingly obvious (“Lock the door when you go out”) and urges “Please drink alcohol in moderation”.

Yet the article contains some genuinely good advice, which deserves to be expanded at the expense of top tips such as “Always wear a seatbelt”.

For example: “When you arrive at your hotel, check out all escape routes and do a practice walk from your room.

“On the beach, be aware of dangerous strong currents and ‘rip tides’.

“Driving on holiday: if you need to wear glasses, always carry a spare set (required by law in Spain).”

Those of us tempted by the prospect of a henna tattoo should “ask for a test application before anything bigger is applied”.

And as the resort rogues switch back from holiday sickness to the time-dishonoured timeshare touting business, Thomas Cook warns: “Don’t sign anything until you get advice from experts. The chances of winning a luxury holiday just by scratching a card in the middle of the street, for example, are highly unlikely.”

If you fail to heed the advice, you may be in need of a timeshare resale firm. There’s an ad for one on page 112.

Thomas Cook does more than most tour operators to remind holidaymakers that travel is not risk-free. Yet as the world wakes up to the hazards caused by discarded plastic, the firm advises: “Keep hydrated by drinking bottled water, and use this to brush your teeth.”

We are no longer living in the 1950s (except, perhaps, in the eyes of some the more extreme Brexiteers), and clean drinking water splashes freshly from taps in hotel rooms from Paphos to Punta Cana. Thomas Cook should be discouraging the wasteful practice of using disposable containers, rather than maintaining the fiction (perhaps encouraged by extreme Brexiteers) that foreign water is innately suspect.

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