The hotel industry and the Noro virus

Posted by Ian Jenkins on

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When Noro virus strikes in a hotel, it's not only the guests who suffer. An outbreak can cause an expensive dilemma for the hotel owners as they decide whether to stay open or close.

The problem for hotels is that if they close voluntarily, it is unlikely that their insurance will cover loss of business, however if they did not close, they run the risk of claims being made against them. 

When Noro virus strikes in a hotel, it's not only the guests who suffer. An outbreak can cause an expensive dilemma for the hotel owners as they decide whether to stay open or close.

Noro virus is the most common cause of gastroenteritis. The symptoms consist mainly of diarrhoea and vomiting. It can be spread by contact with an infected person, either directly or through air if the infected person is vomiting; by consuming contaminated food or water or by contact with contaminated surfaces or objects such as toilets and tables. The disease is spread easily, particularly in "closed" areas such as cruise ships and hotels.

The incubation period is 24-72 hours; therefore a newly arrived guest could be carrying the illness without realising it. The duration of the illness generally lasts 24-48 hours. An infected guest is at their most contagious from the moment they become ill to about 2-3 days after they have recovered.

If an outbreak occurs, hoteliers can either risk the negative publicity generated through local and social media and combat the problem whilst remaining open for business, or lose business by closing the hotel whilst it undergoes a deep cleaning exercise. If the problem is manageable, hotels may take the chance of remaining open however they must report it and work closely with the local environmental health authority. It would be sensible to also inform their insurer in case of any potential compensation claims. There are numerous measures that hotels can take to help prevent the spread of the illness details of which can be found by contacting the local public health office or reading the Health Protection Agency guidelines found on their website.

The problem for hotels is that if they close voluntarily, it is unlikely that their insurance will cover loss of business, however if they did not close, they run the risk of claims being made against them. Infected guests may successfully argue that the hotel had breached its duty of care and had knowingly exposed them to a risk of contracting the virus. Noro virus claims can be very costly, not only in terms of the number of claimants that naturally arise from an outbreak, but also damages in individual claims can be high if the symptoms were serious.

The general consensus amongst hoteliers is to take the hit on profits and close the hotel whilst an extensive cleaning programme is activated, usually undertaken by private contractors. It is sensible to have an action plan in place in case of an outbreak. This will involve making all staff aware of their obligations and duties when the illness strikes. It is also imperative that hotels inform not only the local authority but all present and future guests of the problem, since guests will have an obligation to maintain high levels of hygiene. This will help eradicate the problem and being made aware of the risk, may prevent claims for compensation.

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About the Author

Ian is a Legal executive in our Travel team.

Ian Jenkins
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023 8085 7311

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