The bosses of the UK’s three biggest holiday firms discuss the problem and how they are defending themselves against the surge in claims

Chris Mottershead, UK managing director, Thomas Cook

Q. When did you start to see a spike in holiday sickness claims?
A. It started gradually in early 2016, accelerated in March and April, and through the summer, and has continued since. We’re getting multiple claims for prior years at the same time. All of a sudden, there was an unprecedented increase in claims, but we weren’t seeing sickness at hotels. Most claims come in after a customer returns home. Claims management companies (CMCs) were pursuing customers, telling them they can make the money back to cover their holiday. It was put forward [to customers] in a way that suggested funds are set aside, and they have told customers there is no victim.

Q. How can hotels cope with the rise in claims?
A. They can’t. If you’ve got 100 £6,000 claims, you can’t possibly support that as a hotel. It’s not just unaffordable, or reputational, it’s economically impossible.

Q. How far are these companies going to make claims?
A. Many customers say they were asked to make claims bigger or broader. Claims are even coming from people who haven’t made bookings, seeing if they will wash through the system because of the number coming in. But we are looking at every single claim in detail, to understand the validity.

Q. What is Thomas Cook doing to combat this surge?
A. We are making customers aware in resort that CMCs are acting improperly and that victims have to pay – which is the hotel that delivered exactly what they asked for – and that customers can be liable. We’ve been in serious conversations with CMCs and if companies camp outside hotels, as we saw last year, we will tell customers to stay away.

Q. How can you prove someone was not ill if they’ve bought medicine?
A. Defending sickness claims is difficult. If you say you were ill, in a British court, and may not necessarily have evidence, we [the operator] need to prove that customer wasn’t ill, otherwise we are accusing them of lying. We have very expensive legal costs and can’t claim them back, so we have to make a decision whether we still go ahead if, in a court of law, the likelihood is that we could lose. When it’s a genuine claim, we are very happy to talk to our customers and come to a resolution.

Q. Do you see an end to this?
A. At some point, the time will come when something changes. That could either be the hotels or the law.