You buy travel insurance thinking that you will be covered for any mishaps, but does it really protect you in the time of need? The details are in the fine print as discovered by Cox and Kings Europe tourists even as C&K is giving its “customers” a rude brush-off
Cox and Kings' (C&K) European Whirl tour ended with a whirlwind for 32 passengers just before takeoff back home. After being robbed of valuables left in the bus (on insistence of the tour manager), C&K has given them a cold shoulder and the prospects of the insurance company paying them anything is zero. C&K's reasoning is that they are not responsible for loss of any baggage, valuables and personal effects of the passengers.
Read the first part of the story - Cox & Kings’ tourists robbed in Europe
What is unique in this case is that the passengers lost belongings by following the C&K tour manager's instructions and yet C&K does not believe that they have to take the responsibility. C&K asserts that "passengers should not leave any property in the coach while disembarking", but ironically the tour manager gave exact opposite directions during all the 10 days of the tour.
If the standard operating procedure was to make the passengers keep the baggage inside the coach during sightseeing, C&K should have had an understanding with bus operator/sub-contractor about them taking the responsibility of baggage. C&K should be able to get compensation from bus operator/sub-contractor to indemnify the huge loss to the 32 passengers. Did they get any report from bus operator and tour manager? Was any action taken? How about C&K taking interest to follow-up with the police station in Rome where a complaint has been made? Why is C&K shrugging off the case with a casual attitude?
What makes the case appalling is that all the passengers lost the carry-on baggage and not a small tourist bag, which people carry during sightseeing. According to YN Bhattacharya, a senior banker who along with his family had lost of around Rs2 lakh says, "Instead of going directly to the airport or giving the option to leave the baggage in the safety of hotel lockers which was hardly five miles from the airport and ample time on-hand, the C&K tour manager made the full tour to not only carry all the baggage in the bus but also made them keep it inside the bus with no option for passengers to sit inside the bus. All of them had to go to the mall, which was actually not mentioned in the itinerary." If this is true, it was clearly a trap, possibly involving the tour manager himself. What is the implication is all this for insurance?
While buying travel insurance, customers hardly know what is really covered. What is mentioned in the fine print is that the cover is for checked baggage with the airline and does not cover loss due to theft. Oriental Travel Insurance purchased through C&K only covers loss of checked baggage. One insurer who covers theft from vehicle which clearly states-"It excludes theft from a motor vehicle unless the property is securely locked in the boot and entry to such vehicle is gained by visible, violent and forcible means." Even if the travel insurance purchased through C&K had this clause it would not have helped as it was an inside job. There was no need for forced entry or tampering of the lock. The learning for travel insurance buyers is to not buy blindly. If certain situations are not covered, you have to be extra vigilant about protecting your assets in a foreign land.
One of the 32 passengers lost his passport, ticket and was stranded in Rome. C&K's terms and conditions (T&C) states following-"If you lose your passport, visa, tickets, etc, you may have to incur extra expenses, for which you alone shall be responsible." Moreover, the T&C of Oriental Travel Insurance covering loss of passport excludes following-"Loss or theft of passport left unattended by the insured person unless located in a locked hotel room or apartment and an appropriate sized safety deposit box was not available for use by the Insured Person." There is low chance of getting insurance reimbursement in this case.
Even small tour operators carry public liability and professional indemnity insurance to handle such situations. C&K, being a major player in this business for over 250 years, will surely protect itself for any liability as it would have an insurance cover. So, it is not as if C&K will have to pay from its pocket to reimburse the 32 passengers. The reluctance to entertain and empathise with the loss of its own customers shows horrible a shocking business attitude.
If the fight goes to courts, the tour operator may simply invoke their insurance to pay off any liability. It may eschew doing justice till the noose tightens around its neck.
Tour passengers have been trying to contact C&K by personal visits or emails, but without any success. YN Bhattacharya tried repeatedly to contact Pankaj Sethi, C&K co-coordinator for the tour, who did not pick up the call, but sent an SMS that he would call back later, which he never did. Another passenger G Elangovan's email was unanswered. After a reminder, there was general reply that C&K is looking into the issue. C&K was going to give a response to Moneylife by noon today, but there has been no response till the time we uploaded the article.
Tourists on a tour with Cox & Kings' European Whirl lost all valuables they had kept in C&K bus as per instructions from their guide on the last day
It is widely believed that travelling abroad with a reputed tour operator ensures safety, security and fulfilment of the promises made. However, those on Cox & Kings’ (C&K) European Whirl tour found that their Roman Holiday will be memorable for the wrong reasons. In a shocking incident, passengers allege that their valuables were stolen from their hand luggage right from the bus engaged by the tour operator.
The bad news doesn’t end with being robbed. Instead of helping them file a complaint with the local authorities, they were advised to return to India and file a complaint with Cox & Kings (C&K), which denies any responsibility and points to some opaque fine print in a brochure that was given to the tourists before commencement of the tour.
Here is what happened. YN Bhattacharya, a senior banker and his family were booked on C&K's “European Whirl” tour. The 11 night-10day package cost was Rs1.28 lakh per person. On the last day, the passengers having checked out of their hotels were on the last hours of their tour at Rome, before heading for the airport. Mr Bhattacharya says, the tour manager Marina Coutino repeatedly advised all passengers to carry all valuables and items purchased in person, in backpacks or side bags, to avoid pilferage at the airport and also advised them to claim VAT refund. Accordingly, each passenger had these with them in the bus (on which they had travelled all the way from London), during their last hours of shopping and sight-seeing of the tour.
"On the way to airport, the bus was parked on the road Via Portuense outside a shopping mall and we were advised by Ms Marina Coutino to leave all the belongings in the bus and spend time in the mall till 17:00 hours. No one was allowed to stay in the bus. She also advised that no baggage would be permitted in the mall", says Mr Bhattacharya.
Everyone vacated the bus and entered the mall for lunch and shopping. After couple of hours, the tour manager contacted some of us and informed that baggage inside the bus was missing and everyone should check their belongings in the bus immediately. We immediately rushed to the bus and found that everything was missing from the bus except a hand purse, which had the travel tag on it. Even jackets worn and food packets were not spared".
According to Mr Bhattacharya, almost all the 32 members in the bus on way to airport lost their valuables and one member, Mr Chatterjee even lost his passport and air tickets and was stranded at Rome. Me and my family suffered a loss of around Rs2 lakh, apart from loss of peace and suffering mental agony with sleepless nights.
Moneylife spoke to Mr GS Kutty, who told us he lost his iPhone, laptop and a Blackberry and other valuable items worth over Rs2 lakh. We are in the process of calling others.
The tourists were in for a bigger shock on returning to India. C&K washed its hands off the entire episode. When Moneylife called C&K to ask for its comments, the spokesperson emailed us denying that its tour guide was in anyway responsible for the theft. He said, “We regret that such an unfortunate incident did take place. In the terms and conditions (Page 98) of our brochure we do mention that passengers should not leave behind any property in the coach while disembarking. The company would not be responsible or liable in case of loss of such property under any circumstances. It may be noted that the tour manager Ms Coutino assisted the passengers in filing the FIR at the local police station and a copy of which was provided to the clients".
But Mr Bhattacharya has a very different version. He alleges that the tour manager was in a hurry to take the passengers to the airport and advised them to take up the matter with Cox & Kings on reaching India. She only took them to the police station when the passengers insisted on it. His complaint says, “She (the tour guide) was compelled to take us to the nearest police station in order to lodge a First Information Report (FIR) for lost items. We were not allowed to go inside the police station but were handed over a limited ‘Questura di Roma’ form to fill in and hand over to her. We were not even given adequate time to fill up the forms for all four members. The partially filled forms were handed over to the tour manager for transferring the same to police station. Acknowledgment of only three forms were received out of the four submitted by us which was immediately brought to her notice but she declined to approach the police station to collect the remaining acknowledgement form, which she was to handover to us. This was around 17:00 hours and we were only five miles away from the airport when our flight was at 22:00 hours. This makes it evident that she had enough time to take care of documentation from the police station on the loss of valuables which were in exclusive custody of Cox & Kings, but she did not perform".
In fact, giving the brush off they have received, Mr Bhattacharya wonders whether the theft was an inside job in collusion with the driver and the guide, especially since he was not even given an insurance claim form when he asked for it at C&K’s Vashi office at Mumbai.
Specifically, he cites the following actions questionable actions on the part of the tour operator.
1. Specific advice of the tour manager to carry all the valuables and items purchased in their handbags, backpacks. This facilitated pilferage of all items collectively from inside the bus.
2. Specific advice of the tour manager to leave all valuable belongings in the bus and to vacate the bus for about five hours to go shopping. Nobody was allowed to stay back in the bus.
3. We were not allowed to keep the luggage in the locker room of the hotel as she declined to pick up the luggage later from hotel on way to airport, although it was hardly five miles away.
4. The bus was parked on the road away from the shopping mall in spite of parking space available inside the mall complex.
5. The bus was parked outside the range of security surveillance of the shopping mall, monitored by cameras and CCTVs.
6. There was no tampering on the door of the highly technologically advanced Mercedes-Benz bus, which was fitted with security door alarms. Thus, raises doubts about pilferage being an inside job.
7. The tour operator was reluctant to approach the police station for filing the FIR. After almost three hours of the theft, she could be persuaded to take us to the police station.
8. She neither allowed sufficient time to lodge the complaint nor permitted anyone to leave the bus to meet the police officials.
9. The tour operator did not hand over the complaint acknowledgement from the police station for Sayanti Bhattacharya although she had filled the complaint form.
10. Although the bus was parked outside the police station, no police personnel inspected the bus.
11. Although there was plenty of time available to file a detailed complaint (about five to six hours until flight time) she was in hurry to push us to the airport and didn’t want the travellers interacting with the local police.
12. On reaching airport, she was not traceable anymore.
The question then is, don’t tour operators get any insurance for the tours? That is a separate story. Watch this space.
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