Brits are shrugging off holiday illnesses

Sun-soaked holiday photo
Sun-soaked holiday photo

The travel industry estimates that some 30 million package holidays will be taken this year and, unfortunately, not all will go without a hitch. Yet when Brits travel abroad for that precious week or two in the sun and are unhappy, few are prepared to make a complaint, according to new research by HolidayTravelWatch, the independent consumer champion for quality holidays.

Short-term sickness was one the biggest issues, faced by 11% of respondents from the East Midlands, as opposed to 10% nationally, along with unexpected changes to flight times and delayed flights. Most people get over a holiday illness within a few days, but 10% of those who took part in the survey said it took them up to two weeks to recover fully. The annual cost to the UK economy of people falling ill while on holiday is estimated at £240million, so there is a major knock on effect, which few of us consider.

“Nobody likes being ill during a much longed for holiday, but shrugging it off is not necessarily the best course of action, especially if symptoms persist after your return to the UK,” says Frank Brehany, consumer director at HolidayTravelWatch.

“People don’t think about the impact on their home life if they’re unable to take part in family activities, for example, or on their employer’s business if they have to take time off work to recuperate, but this can be considerable.”

Other major irritations included having to deal with rude or unhelpful staff and poor quality food. The national picture shows that although almost a fifth (19%) of respondents experienced this kind of problem, more than eight in ten did not complain to their travel company or rep, while 77% did not claim on their travel insurance. In fact, just 4% of respondents said they claimed for sickness while on holiday. Where holidaymakers from the East Midlands are concerned, the results were only slightly better, with 74% saying they did not claim on their travel insurance and only one per cent making a claim after being taken ill.

Worryingly, the majority of people who did raise issues while in resort, did not feel their complaint was taken seriously. Twenty per cent of those who were ill were told this was due to ‘Spanish Tummy’, while one in ten were accused of having too much to drink and 20% were advised that a change in diet or too much sun must have been the cause.

When things go wrong holidaymakers don’t tend to complain because they don’t understand their rights. HolidayTravelWatch says consumer rights are enshrined in the Package Travel Regulations and advises people to make a complaint, in writing, at the time illness strikes, as this gives the hotel and/or travel company the opportunity to put things right. If no action is taken, and/or you are still feeling the effects of an illness after arriving home, follow up with a written complaint and make a claim on your travel insurance within 28 days of your return to the UK.

The latter course of action assumes an appreciation of the benefits of travel insurance. Worryingly, when asked if they had made a complaint to their insurer, 15% of those surveyed from the East Midlands admitted they did not take out travel insurance, higher than the national average of 11%. One of the reasons for this is that people travelling to Europe believe the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is all they need, but this does not provide full cover and since it costs at least £30,000 to repatriate someone by medical air ambulance, HolidayTravelWatch says travel insurance is vital. To ensure the policy meets your needs, always declare any pre-existing medical conditions and check the level of cover, because it is easy to incorporate extra cover for activities such as watersports.

According to the research, of the 11% of holidaymakers from the East Midlands who complained to their travel company, seven per cent said they received an apology but no compensation. This is good news in one respect, since HolidayTravelWatch has been concerned about reports of travel firms offering a financial incentive to try and dissuade people from making a complaint. Its advice to holidaymakers is never to accept a ‘compensation’ offer, particularly on behalf of children, without first seeking independent advice.

“Since some of us get to take just one holiday a year, we were surprised to learn that British consumers are willing to put up with all sort of problems, even illness,” concludes Frank.

“Often it’s because they don’t know their rights, but it’s also the case that holidaymakers don’t consider the hidden costs of falling ill, such as the impact on their family. It’s time people looked at a holiday in the same light as any other product or service they buy, and, if they aren’t happy with it, complain. After all, if we don’t complain, how are holiday problems going to be resolves so that others don’t experience them in the future?”

For advice on what to do after falling ill while on holiday, especially if you are still experiencing symptoms, or assistance with a holiday complaint, contact HolidayTravelWatch on 0333 202 4166 or visit its website,