| ||How can hoteliers and tour operators work together to improve the regular flow of health and safety information, providing up-to-date intelligence which can help to avoid future liability and negative publicity? |
The current situation
In the past, the responsibility of any food poisoning outbreak due to poor hygiene standards was always put onto the hoteliers’ shoulders. However, the TUI case (a recent ruling against TUI UK from a case dating back to 2003 in Mallorca) has set a new precedent in tour operator’s responsibility for the safety of guests and the hygiene standards of their partner hotels.
As such, there needs to be a change in methodology in how tour operators gather, and hotels communicate, health and safety reports, to not only ensure the well-being of customers, but also provide both parties with due diligence protection.
At present, tour operators are faced with an extremely difficult job. The recent ruling makes it even more difficult. Self assessment forms are the basis of health and safety reviews of hotels for tour operators, with infrequent auditing acting as a backup. It is just not possible for tour operators to continually manually assess and audit their hotel stock.
Furthermore, it often can take hotels several days, after an incident has happened, to tell a tour operator of a food poisoning outbreak or similar difficulties. All the while, tour operators keep sending holidaymakers to the establishment as they are completely unaware of a problem. Given this ruling, it is extremely difficult for a tour operator to supply a due diligence defence should a case like the TUI example be pursued.
A system must be put in place which allows them to demonstrate that they have done as much as possible to protect the welfare of their customers.
A joint partnership
This is something that cannot be addressed by one party in isolation. It must be an issue that both tour operators and hoteliers look at in tandem. In the first instance, hotels must look to forge their own relationships with independent health and safety consultants to implement auditing systems that identify any problem areas, with the experts working with the establishment to minimise these risks.
This information should then be shared transparently with tour operators on a regular basis. At a click of a button, tour operators would have access to real-time reports allowing them to take a proactive approach to health and safety, working closely with partners on an ongoing basis to ensure that the standard of a hotel is regularly monitored to spot problem areas early before they get a chance to develop.
With the immediacy of these type of reports, it will be possible for tour operators to swiftly and proactively respond to any areas of concern, instructing hoteliers of any actions or requirements that must be taken to comply with brand standards or as a last resort stopping the travel of guests to that destination. Once an area of concern is found and changes have been instructed, the real-time reports allow hoteliers to update tour operators when specific repairs have been made.
Essentially this is improving the proactivity of tour operators, providing them with a platform where they can maintain an ongoing relationship with hotel partners. Such a strategy would provide the tour operator with a strong due diligence defence in the face of legal claims.
This increased visibility can only have a positive impact on customer service levels, the main KPI for many operators. At the moment, it is common industry practice for tour operators to send out questionnaires to consumers to assess satisfaction levels after their holiday.
If a problem has occurred while a guest was staying at the hotel, even if it has been fixed, repeat business is already lost as disgruntled customers are unlikely to return to the hotel.
Real-time reports can dramatically impact the amount of business lost in this way, allowing tour operators to spot problem areas before they happen and result in customer complaints. Cases such as the TUI example could be a turning point for both tour operators and hoteliers as suddenly health and safety reporting and the way assessments are performed are under scrutiny.
In order to avoid the floodgates opening to litigation and further negative publicity, both parties need to ensure that reporting is performed on a regular basis, with a proactive approach to identifying and resolving issues.