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Saint Lucia hospitality industry officials have expressed concern about false claims being made by unscrupulous tourists, asserting that such claims are having a negative effect on this country’s vital tourism industry.

According to a BBC report quoting the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), millions of Britons are being encouraged to say they were sick while on holiday.

A poll carried out for ABTA suggests that 19% of all holidaymakers may have been approached by a claims management company on their return home.

They are told that there is money waiting for them if they file a claim, the BBC report stated.

According to the media outlet, on average, successful claimants get payouts of just over £2,000 each.

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Saint Lucia Hotel and Tourism Association (SLHTA), Norani Azeez, told St Lucia Times that although the association has not carried out its own survey, the likelihood of bogus claims represents a risk of doing business in the hospitality sector globally.

Nevertheless, Azeez expressed surprised at that the ABTA were so high.

‘Certainly the issue of false claims made by guests to get complimentary vacations or reimbursements for expenses spent is something that is part of the trade – something we have continuously ben weary of,’ the SLHTA official explained.

‘Regrettably, when you have such things occurring, the bottom line of may properties is being hit,’ he told St Lucia Times.

According to Azeez, the ABTA figures regarding tourist claims were ‘shocking.’

‘When you’ve got claims like that made against properties and successfully too, if these claims are as disingenuous as the survey claims, then you can imagine the bottom line impact on things like liability insurance for properties in an industry that is so price sensitive and desperately trying to compete against a hundred other destinations on the planet ,’ he told St Lucia Times.

The SLHTA official however observed that it should not be understood that all tourist claims are disingenuous.

But he asserted that if people are being approached to file claims, that is ‘very alarming’.

‘We have to perhaps be a lot more clinical in regard to which markets we target to do business with,’ Azeez declared.

The United Kingdom is one of Saint Lucia’s main source markets for visitors.

But a top Saint Lucia tourism industry official who spoke to St Lucia Times on condition of anonymity, said American visitors are equally guilty of making claims for compensation.

The official recalled an incident at a local hotel some years ago where a staff member befriended some guests and took them on an Island tour free of cost in his own vehicle.

‘They had an accident and the tourist broke his leg and when they left the Island, everything was fine,’ the official related.

But he explained that travel lawyers have become ‘such professionals’ that they ‘keep scouting’ for such opportunities.

‘By the time those people returned home they were advised by their lawyers to sue,’ the official stated.

He told St Lucia Times that the hotel employee who took the visitors on the free Island tour in his own vehicle lost his job.

‘This is how bizarre it is,’ the tourism industry official told St Lucia Times.

‘A lot of these cases you do win, but it is so expensive to defend oneself. That has affected a lot of hotel confidence in wanting to send their guests to mass crowd events  like the Gros Islet street party, even to the Castries shopping tour and so on – just so that they do not have to go through the legal requirements or the legal headache,’ he stated.

The official explained that once an officer of a company recommends the tour, the company becomes liable.

He expressed the view that the issue of tourist claims for compensation is not limited to one nationality or demographic.

‘All nationalities are guilty of it – you get good people and bad people everywhere and that is unfortunate because hotels are less enthusiastic about recommending certain tours, because of this suing culture which has emerged in the last 25 years in the tourism industry,’ the official told St Lucia Times.

‘In fact if you go to the tour desk of many hotels you will see a disclaimer – if you book the tour the hotels will say : ‘Well, we are not really liable.’ They do everything they can to protect themselves – they make sure the excursion companies have insurance, that they will take on the liabilities of any legal issues and so on,’ he pointed out.

According to the official, many of the companies that are the target of legal action by tourists are small Saint Lucian businesses.

He noted that the lawsuits are affecting the economic spin-offs that Saint Lucia can obtain from tourism.

‘Could you imagine if hotels across the board are going to be reluctant to send people to the Gros Islet street party for instance? That means that a lot of the vendors, a lot of the fishermen, a lot of the people who run bars and restaurants will be affected directly,’ the official told St Lucia Times.

Under existing law in the UK, those who commit such fraud can face a sentence of up to three years.

According to the BBC, in October last year, a couple from Merseyside were jailed after pretending to be sick on holiday.

It was also reported that last week a Derbyshire couple pleaded guilty to fraud after claiming a trip to Turkey was ruined by diarrhoea and vomiting.

As many as nine million Britons  are said to have been approached to make such sickness claims.