Since the beginning of 2011, we have voiced concerns for the many holidaymakers affected by the civil strife problems arising in Egypt and Tunisia. We have expressed concern that holidays were or indeed are now being sold into a risk destination. From the many calls we received at the beginning of 2011, it was clear that holidaymakers were not warned of the potential risks, with many reporting a confinement to their hotel complexes or in some cases suddenly finding themselves at great risk due to their transport being attacked. Now I want to make quite clear, and this is a point that I repeated time and time again, that any warning I give is not designed to hurt or affect a tourist economy. These destinations have much to offer, but again I ask the question, is it right to introduce a Consumer to a destination where there is a real risk that harm could come to them? The Egyptian and Tunisian people deserve to establish for themselves a system of government that brings stability, however, if a Consumer is sold a holiday to a risk destination, without having available all the facts at the time of sale, what actual benefit is achieved by the receiving country if that Consumer then suffers with a bad experience? Surely it is better to attract visitors or sell holidays when that society is stable?
My present concerns arise on two fronts.
Firstly, I continue to be concerned with the problems being experienced by tourists in Egypt. We are getting reports of increasing inappropriate sexual attention being paid to British women; there are other issues of serious activity which we are hearing of in one particular resort and we are investigating those issues. However, the issues of our concern were raised in a recent press release about tourist safety. On examination of the latest Foreign & Commonwealth (FCO) Advices for Egypt, we can see that:
- The FCO advises against 'all but essential travel' to the area north of the Suez-Taba road on the Sinai peninsula (This is the road from the Suez canal down to Taba on the Red Sea)
- There is concern surrounding the latest round of the Presidential elections;
- Reports of demonstrations;
- Reports of Sexual Assaults in Cairo;
- The FCO reports a 'marked increase' in crime throughout Egypt involving armed robberies, muggings, sexual assaults, rapes, break-ins to accommodation;
- They report that in 2011, they dealt with 20 cases of sexual assault and 6 cases of rape;
- The FCO report that some of the sex crimes were committed against minors;
- The FCO highlights that many of these assaults occurred in what they term 'safe environments' - eg, hotels, taxis and microbuses;
- Fuel shortages;
- 2 US Nationals were kidnapped and returned around 30 May 2012;
- "There have been a number of incidents in February and March 2012 of kidnappings of foreign tourists and tour guides by armed tribesmen 0n the roads between Nuweiba, Dahab and St Catherine's in Sinai" (the FCO reports that they were all released apparently unharmed);
- "You should exercise caution when travelling outside resorts in the Sinai";
- The FCO reports 'incidents' of 'robberies' and 'roadblocks' on the roads in Sinai, Luxor, Abu Simbel and Quena;
- The FCO reports that one tourist bus was 'robbed' near Taba on the Sinai peninsula on 2/3 June 2012;
- It was further reported that another tourist bus was held up near Abu Simbel by residents apparently engaged in a land dispute;
- The FCO advises that there is a 'high risk' from terrorist attacks in the resort areas of the Sinai, although they are apparently subject to tight security!
With regards to Tunsia, we have noted a greater number of tourists are returning, judged by the rising number of holiday complaints we are receiving about the standards in hotels and reports of illness. We have noted however, the rising tensions within Tunisian society between the mainstream and the Salafists. There have clearly been a number of incidents where it is claimed the Salafists are seeking to impose their views on dress codes. In recent days there have been a number of riots and outbreaks of public disorder. As a result of this changing scene, we note that the Foreign & Commonwealth Office travel advices for Tunisia have advised that:
- There are no travel restrictions in Tunisia;
- A State of Emergency has been declared;
- A curfew has been imposed between the hours of 21.00hrs and 05.00hrs;
- This curfew exists in and around Tunis;
- The curfew has also been extended to the tourist towns of Sousse and Monastir;
- They warn that additional curfews may be imposed at a moments notice;
- They also warn of the potential impact on Tunisia of the problems from nearby Libya;
- Travellers are advised that spontaneous protests can occur including roadblocks;
- They warn of the potential for religious or social tension (this appears to follow from recent attacks on alcohol sellers);
- They report that 'muggings, pick pocketing, bag snatching and petty theft are on the increase'.
In light of these events and warnings, it does raise the very serious question as to the legitimacy of selling holidays to these destinations without full disclosure of the potential for problems. If the situation continues to deteriorate, I sincerely hope that tour operators will fully respect the rights accorded to British holidaymakers for 'Significant Change' under 12 & 13 of the Package Travel Regulations. I understand that we live in difficult times, but the lure and the gloss of the brochure must not become the only source made available to holidaymakers. We suggest that this information should be made available at the time of booking the holiday (openness and honesty is required), to help the Consumer make an informed decision; as I have previously said, it is time to let the Egyptian and Tunisian people heal their societies and for all to enjoy the rush of benefits that will surely follow from safe tourism.