Thomas Cook has pledged to investigate hotels with large numbers of ill guests after tests found high levels of two kinds of bacteria at the Steigenberger Aqua Magic Hotel in Hurghada where a British couple died last month in mysterious but apparently unrelated circumstances.
Susan Cooper, a travel agent who worked in a Thomas Cook store in Burnley, northern England, and her husband John died suddenly while on holiday at the luxury hotel, prompting widespread media and social media speculation about the causes. Their daughter, who was on holiday with them, claimed they might have died from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by faulty air-conditioning. But Egyptian officials claimed an autopsy had shown they had died of natural causes and there were no problems with the room’s air-conditioning.
At the same time, some hotel guests complained about being taken ill due to poorly-prepared food in the hotel. In response, Thomas Cook moved some 300 customers to other hotels in the Red Sea resort and has stopped taking bookings for the Steigenberger Aqua Magic Hotel until further notice.
Yesterday Europe’s number two tourism group released the results of a series of tests of food, water and air at the hotel that it commissioned from an independent hygiene specialist and air quality specialist. They included tests on the swimming pool, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide levels, air conditioning units, and a thorough audit of food storage, preparation, presentation and equipment. The tests were carried out across the hotel but not in the Coopers’ hotel room, which remains under the control of the Egyptian authorities due to their ongoing investigation.
In a detailed statement, Thomas Cook said the results gave an ‘all clear’ to the hotel’s air and water quality. “There was no evidence of carbon monoxide and there were normal carbon dioxide levels in the vicinity of the room. The tests on the swimming pools showed normal levels of chlorine.”
But the tests on the food and hygiene standards identified “a high level of e-coli and staphylococcus bacteria”, although they did not identify the presence of shigella, listeria or salmonella, Cook revealed.
The company said these preliminary results had been reviewed by an independent expert, Doctor Vanya Gant (Consultant and Divisional Clinical Director in Microbiology and Infection, University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust) and shared with the Cooper family, Egyptian authorities and Deutsche Hospitality, which has a franchise agreement with the Steigenberger Aqua Magic Hotel.
“It is clear from these results that something went wrong in August at the Steigenberger Aqua Magic Hotel in Hurghada and that standards fell below what we expect from our hotel partners,” Thomas Cook declared. “This is also supported by a review that we have conducted of our customer satisfaction scores, which fell sharply during this month. It is likely that the presence of e-coli and staphylococcus would explain the raised level of illness reported among guests at the hotel during this time, supporting Thomas Cook’s decision to remove our 300 customers.”
But the company continued: “However, neither our independent specialists nor Doctor Vanya Gant believe that these results shed any light on the still unexplained cause of death of Mr and Mrs Cooper. We await the results of the autopsies being conducted by the Egyptian authorities.”
Outlining its response to the test results, Thomas Cook said: “We have taken the decision to roll out a programme of specialist hygiene assessments to all hotels which experience a higher than average reported level of sickness.
“In addition, we are putting together a compensation package for all customers staying at the Steigenberger Aqua Magic Hotel in Hurghada during August who have told us that they were ill. We take all reports of sickness seriously and we are very sorry for any customers whose holidays have been spoiled by illness. We have already put in place a dedicated team to prioritise all complaints from this hotel.”
Thomas Cook CEO Peter Fankhauser, who flew to Egypt last week to hold discussions with local officials, commented: “Everyone at Thomas Cook is deeply saddened by the tragic deaths of John and Susan Cooper while staying at the Steigenberger Aqua Magic Hotel in Hurghada. Susan was a longstanding and much-loved colleague of ours. We continue to await the results of the investigation being conducted by the Egyptian authorities and are working closely with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to ensure we prioritise the very best interests of the Cooper family.”
On the test results, he emphasised: “The tests that Thomas Cook commissioned show that hygiene at the Steigenberger Aqua Magic Hotel during the month of August did not meet the standards we expect. I am very sorry for all our customers who fell ill while on a Thomas Cook holiday at this hotel.
“These results, while not establishing the cause of the tragic deaths of John and Susan Cooper, have prompted us to commit further resource to tackle hygiene standards in those hotels where we identify a higher than average level of sickness.”
As fvw.com reported last week, most German tourists who booked through other tour operators, including TUI and FTI, decided to stay on at the Steigenberger Aqua Magic hotel despite the incidents and complete their holidays there.