I was astonished to read in the Travel Section of Saturday's 'Independent' newspaper', an advertisment by a major tour operator, offering an 'unbelievable value' holiday to Sri Lanka! In the same paper (page 2) I could see the headline 'UN brokers exit strategy for children trapped in war zone'! Pictures showed Tamil children queuing for food and a shocking picture of a malnourished child, showing 'scenes of utter misery and hardship, a government health official in the region claimed that at least five children were dying every day from diarrhoea and malnutrition and that many mothers are too emaciated to nurse their babies'. This is a purely personal observation (I respect those who differ from me and I am sure that there will be those who state that their visit will help the very people in question etc etc), even if I decided to take the risk of travelling to such a country, I could not in all conscience travel to a country with such misery and 'enjoy myself ' in a five star all-inclusive hotel with all that going on up the road so to speak!
This situation in Sri Lanka is worrying as we witness what many are calling the 'end game' to a decades old conflict, with the Sri Lankan government determined to be masters of all they survey!
I wonder how many who go to Sri Lanka, or indeed any other risk destinations realise that their travel insurance is probably invalid; how many are actually advised by a tour operator of the risks that are actually present and in what detail is that information provided?
On Friday we published our report to the EU Commission and EU Parliament, updating our 2007 report by illustrating the 'Summer of Consumer Discontent 2008'.
In that report, we commented upon the report submitted to the EU Commission by ECTAA (The European Travel Agents' & Tour Operators Associations), following the EU Parliament commissioned report on liability and the future of the Package Travel Directive. They had specifically voiced their objections to the proposal within the parliamentary report, which recommended that tour operators should should give holidaymakers up to date information about risk destinations and the option of the Consumer to cancel in the event of a 'force majeure' arising.
We consider that in the 21st Century, there is ample opportunity to accurately assess and inform on the issues of man made or natural disasters; it is untenable for any travel industry organisation or tour operator to claim that the giving of such information is impossible.
I have no objection to any business attempting to 'sell their wares', nor for any country wanting to attract precious currency, but there must surely be a new ethic employed by a risk destination in attracting visitors to their shores.
Tour Operator's must apply sensible logic and ethics in the selling of a risk destination and provide a clear and open disclosure as to the nature of a risk destination to the holidaymaker and the impact on the travel insurance product!
In Sri Lanka's case, whatever the counter argument of 'terror activities', it is time to put human rights - childrens rights first and respect the common decency of International Law - the tourists can come later!