Turning a blind eye to duty of care comes at a cost

Steve Jones takes a closer look at whether agents and consumers can really be sure of the quality and integrity of the suppliers they deal with.

SteveJonesBy Steve Jones

In last month’s travelBulletin, I examined the many and varied threats facing wholesalers, one of them being the growing propensity of travel agents to book directly with overseas suppliers.

Among the questions asked by established wholesalers about this retail-turned-wholesale model, and of consumers booking directly overseas, was this: can they – agents and consumers – really be sure of the quality and integrity of the supplier they are dealing with?

Sadly, recent events in the UK has made that question all too relevant for those who originally posed it.

Anyone in any doubt should take a look at the truly heartbreaking story of brother and sister, Bobby and Christi Shepherd, who died from carbon monoxide poisoning as they slept in their room on a Thomas Cook package holiday. They were aged six and seven. Their dad and step mum slipped into comas, but survived.

The cause of this awful tragedy on the Greek island of Corfu was a decrepit boiler attached to the side of their accommodation.

The latest development of a torturous nine-year legal saga concluded last month with an inquest jury ruling the children had been unlawfully killed and that Thomas Cook had breached its duty of care.

While it became clear that staff at the Louis Corcyra Beach hotel had lied to Thomas Cook over the very existence of such boilers, the brand has taken a hammering, with the parents laying the blame firmly at the door of the tour operator for failing to adequately check the safety of the property.

It is clear there were serious, indeed fatal errors in the tour operator’s health and safety audit, and they have been rightly castigated for it.

In addition, Thomas Cook’s actions in the intervening period have been nothing short of a PR disaster, but that’s another story.

What this demonstrates in the most terrible way imaginable is the critical need not only for agents and consumers to do their due diligence thoroughly and meticulously, but for those wholesalers who too often claim the moral high ground.

The entire argument put forward by wholesalers that only they can truly be tasked with sourcing trusted and respected partners, and only they can really monitor health and safety, has been at best undermined, at worst destroyed.

That may he hard on the vast majority of companies who do act responsibly at all times, and who  continually ensure health and safety standards are maintained.

But just as it takes only one fraudulent or shonky online firm to shake confidence, so it takes one respected international brand to neglect its duty to undermine them all.

Amid all the criticism directed towards Thomas Cook, it shouldn’t be forgotten that it was lied to by hotel staff.

Little wonder then that wholesalers and tour operators are seeking to take greater control of their product by acquiring destination management companies. It is something Intrepid Travel has been doing for years, and a strategy also being pursued by Flight Centre.

Such an approach is driven by a desire to create and control product which appeals to the customer without being forced to rely on third parties.

But it will also ensure they have complete control over quality and safety standards. And that, surely, is the most important reason of all. 

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