Tourists’ bags held as security for agents’ debt

Greek tourism authorities are examining the legality of a growing practice by hotel owners of retaining the luggage of departing tourists until their travel agents pay up outstanding debts, officials said yesterday. «We will examine the subject in the weeks to come,» Vassilis Souliotis, a state legal adviser at Greece’s Development Ministry that oversees the tourism industry, told AFP. The Legal State Council, which will review the practice, is the Greek government’s chief legal adviser and its findings are effectively binding for authorities. The heavy-handed tactics under scrutiny hit headlines after a hotel owner on the island of Corfu told 23 departing British tourists on Monday that they could not leave with their luggage because their tour operator, Cosmos, owed him 80,000 euros from a contract signed June 2. «This is not the only case where this has happened; the others just didn’t make the news,» according to Development Ministry official Meletis Giokas. The Corfu hotel owner, Costas Poulimas, withheld the suitcases of another group of 58 British tourists as they prepared to leave on September 1 – then released the baggage later that day after Cosmos representatives promised to honor their financial obligations. On Monday, he again released the Britons’ luggage, but not until two hours before their flight home. «I wanted to raise awareness to my problem after Cosmos failed to fulfill their pledge,» he said. Poulimas insists his actions are backed up by a 1931 law allowing hotel owners to retain clients’ belongings as collateral if they do not pay their bills. «We will have to see if the hotel owner’s client is the tourist or the travel agent who owes the money,» Souliotis said. Poulimas said he had not sought to sue the travel agency in what he feared would be a drawn-out court case, saying: «I can’t wait a year or two until the trial would be finished.» (AFP)

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