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Travel Agencies & Hotels: An Emerging Trend in Duty of Care Lawsuits?

According to  media reports, families of UK citizens killed during a 2015 terrorist attack on a hotel in Tunisia may be preparing to sue the travel agency that booked the trip — Thomson Holiday and their parent TUI Group. Part of the allegations are rooted in basic Duty of Care: the failure to warn travelers of the risks.  One media report quotes family as accusing Thompson of “practically hiding” government travel guidance on Tunisia. The families also allege that Thomson and their travel agents:

  • Sold travel insurance that excluded cancellation based on threat of terrorism
  • Encouraged customers with discounts to book Tunisia trips
  • Discouraged travelers from canceling trips, including through penalties and loss of deposits

The potential legal action against Thomson Group reflects an emerging trend where travel agencies and hotels have been accused of negligence in providing appropriate security guidance in light of terrorist attacks.  Earlier this month, a claim against the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel by a UK citizen injured during a 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai was reportedly settled in the UK for an undisclosed amount.  Here in the US, Marriott International is currently being sued by the family of an American killed in the 2008 attack on the brand’s hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Attacks over the last year in France, Tunisia, Mali and Burkina Faso serve as stark reminders that terrorism continues to be a persistent threat with an increasingly global footprint. Hotels — long a target of extremist attacks — will be increasingly expected to provide procedures and resources to mitigate the risk of terrorism. Merely relying on a host country’s security service won’t be sufficient to provide Duty of Care to guests.

Similarly, it is important for travel agencies to make accurate and timely information on risks — terrorism and otherwise — available to travelers and offer accommodation for changes in travel plans based on developments in the risk environment.   And of course travelers, too, need to be informed through official travel warnings, media reports and commercial security information sources.

Statistically terrorism remains a low likelihood risk for global travelers — but it’s a potentially severe impact risk that requires appropriate attention. While much attention is paid to employers’ obligations, hotels and travel agents have Duty of Care responsibilities to travelers. And if recent claims are any guide, travelers are increasingly holding those groups responsible for their role in travel risk management.