In recent weeks, many of the UK’s major news outlets have published stories on bedbug infestations, both in the UK and abroad, writes Travlaw’s Conor Askins. With some claiming that infestations are ‘soaring’ and others stating that bedbugs are becoming ‘out of control’, we ask: What is the current situation and, as a Package Organiser, what can you do to protect your position should an allegation of a bedbug infestation arise?
Where has this issue come from?
Whilst news outlets have really honed in on the issue of bedbugs in recent weeks, the truth is that bedbug cases have been increasing in ‘major cities’ since the end of the 1990s, and there are several reasons for that. Experts claim that Bedbugs can easily be transmitted from one place to another and are commonly transmitted by travellers on/in clothes, suitcases etc. so it perhaps isn’t surprising that, as global travel returns to pre-pandemic levels there are more chances of the little critters being transmitted in a traveller’s clothing or suitcase!
So what are my obligations as a Tour Operator, and how can I protect myself from potential claims?
If you are a tour operator selling packages under the Package Travel Regulations 2018 the burden of proof will rest with the customer to show how and why you were at fault for failing to prevent a bedbug infestation. To do this, they will have to evidence a breach of local standards, and of course that means the local standards at the holiday destination, i.e. for a bedbug claim brought following a holiday in France, the standards the court will consider will be the local standards that are in France, not in England! To be successful, the customer must satisfy three elements:
- Prove what the local standards are.
- Prove that those standards have been breached.
- Prove that the breach has caused the customer loss.
If the customer fails to satisfy any of the three elements above, the claim will fail.
As a tour operator you are of course liable for the performance of all of the travel services within the package travel contract and you will therefore want to ensure that, so far as it possible, you are carrying out regular checks on your suppliers to confirm that they are up to scratch. Such checks may include:
- Carrying out full safety audits of any hotels you use, either by visiting the properties yourself, or using independent audit companies;
- Ensuring that the hotels have a detailed Pest Management Programme;
- Requesting that hotels have a specialist bedbug policy in cases where an outbreak has been confirmed;
- Ensuring staff at the hotels receive the requisite training;
- Advising hotels to fumigate hotel rooms where bedbugs are suspected, (noting that this should be carried out by a reputable, qualified company);
- Ensuring the hotels you use keep detailed cleaning records to illustrate that rooms are cleaned and the Pest Management Programme is followed.
Damages awarded in successful bedbug claims can be substantial, ranging from a couple of thousand pounds all the way up to tens of thousands of pounds, depending on the severity of injuries suffered. There was even a recent case that involved the death of two customers in Egypt, following the fumigation of an adjoining hotel room where an infestation had been confirmed. For this reason, tour operators should ensure that they are doing all that they can to minimise the risk that they face when it comes to bedbug infestations, and ensure that their suppliers are taking all appropriate steps and precautions to keep the presence of these little bugs at bay!
If you have any questions or any bedbug claims, feel free to get in touch;
0113 258 0033
This article was originally published on: 5 December 2023