Following an extraordinary couple of years with high-profile incidents in destinations across the globe, including terrorist attacks in Tunisia and Turkey and flight restrictions to Egypt, Brits are changing the way they holiday and are opting for more familiar destinations that are perhaps perceived as being safer. In uncertain times, people are booking package holidays for the support, protection and convenience they offer. In fact, ABTA highlights that 53% of the population opted for a package holiday in 2016 - a 10% increase compared to just five years earlier in 2011.
With so many people relying on tour operators for their holidays, JMW’s Personal Injury solicitors think it is important to share some advice on what to expect when booking a holiday through a tour operator, and how far their responsibilities stretch if you were to find yourself involved in an accident.
What is a tour operator?
A tour operator is a company that specialises in delivering package holidays, usually sold through a travel agent or via the internet, such as TUI (Thomson) and Thomas Cook. Typically, a tour operator will organise the tour and travel aspects of your holiday, selling individual components together in a bundle. For example, return flights to/from the destination, airport transfer to/from the hotel and a stay in a hotel. Extras might include sightseeing excursions or trips to popular attractions.
Expectations of a tour operator
When you go on a package holiday, there is always the risk that your expectations of a tour operator will not match their actual responsibilities in the event of you suffering injury or illness. A survey carried out by JMW asked 676 respondents what support they would expect to receive from a tour operator should they be injured on a package holiday. The following answers were given:
● 76% thought they would help with travel arrangements, such as an early flight home
● 75% thought they would help with getting medical assistance
● 63% thought they would help to contact relatives or loved ones
● 61% thought they would provide assistance with insurance matters
These statistics show that the vast majority of holidaymakers assume their tour operator will go to significant lengths to help them during an emergency. But do these match up with the legal responsibilities of a tour operator?
The legal responsibilities of tour operators
In order to understand what the legal responsibilities of a tour operator are, we must first look at the legal definition of a package holiday, as tour operators adhere to this definition when observing their obligations to customers.
According to the Package Travel, Package Holiday and Package Tour Regulations 1992, a “package” is defined as a pre-arranged combination of at least two components of a holiday (such as transport, accommodation and other ancillary services accounting for a proportion of the package) are set at an inclusive price, covering a period of more than 24 hours or overnight accommodation. A deal might not therefore, be defined as a package if components can be sold separately at the same price. However, people who book a holiday have the right to expect the package that they paid for, so being aware of what is included in the package is very important.
Despite providing the package a holidaymaker has paid for, tour operators have no strict liability, meaning should you be involved in an accident abroad, it is up to you to prove the tour operator breached their duty of care towards you. For example, if you slip on a wet floor in a hotel, you must provide evidence that appropriate measures weren’t taken to ensure your safety. As foreign countries do not have to follow English safety regulations, tour operators are not necessarily obliged to ensure they comply with them and instead are simply obliged to comply with local laws. This means that it comes down to you again to prove that an injury was caused due to a breach of the local legislation.
It may seem impossible to make a successful claim against a tour operator, however this is where dealing with a skilled and experienced lawyer can help. Remember, a tour operator can be responsible for an injury or illness if the incident happened either at the hotel complex or as part of an activity provided as part of the package holiday (e.g. during a flight, an airport transfer or on board a cruise ship) and a skilled lawyer will help you to prove their role in your injury or illness.
If the accident happens in the above circumstances, it would be expected that a tour operator will take care of you in the immediate aftermath of an injury, i.e. assist you with making travel arrangements, contacting family and dealing with insurance matters. This is because it is the tour operator’s responsibility to protect customers through the services they provide.
Chris Sutton, partner and travel claims expert from JMW, comments: “Tour operators should be more transparent about what their obligations to their customers are, and what customers can expect from them by way of assistance if they do encounter problems abroad. Customers put a great deal of trust and faith in their tour operators and this is something that rightfully should be rewarded, or at the very least, respected.
“However, the reality that has been reported back to me from my clients who have been injured whilst abroad suggests their good will is rarely reciprocated. There are very onerous duties placed on claimants to demonstrate that a tour operator has been negligent in their responsibility to paying customers who, very often, spend most of their year looking forward to making a holiday getaway.
“My goal is always to ensure that someone who is injured through no fault of their own is provided with everything they need to get back on track, and the appropriate means to do this. I feel strongly that tour operators should meet this obligation too, and step up to take care of their customers.”
What to do if you’re injured on holiday
Taking out travel insurance prior to your trip can make life that little bit easier should you be injured while on holiday. It gives you added security should you be involved in an accident and will help to ease any issues you may face if your tour operator fails to provide you with adequate support.
If you are unfortunate enough to be involved in an accident abroad, there are certain steps you should take:
● Ensure you receive suitable medical attention immediately
● Report the accident to the tour operator as soon as possible
● If the place where the incident happened has an accident book, be sure to record the events accurately and request a copy
● Keep a record of as much information as possible:
○ Request a copy of the medical report, doctor’s report and accident notes
○ Keep receipts of any medical charges incurred
○ Take photographs of your injuries and the cause of the accident
○ Take note of the scene of the incident
○ Take down the names and addresses of any witnesses
Hopefully, you won’t suffer any illnesses or injuries whilst you’re abroad, however if you do, law firms, such as JMW, offer a specialist claims service to holidaymakers, designed to help them make a full recovery.
Photo by brianfagan via Flickr Creative Commons