In the past 2 weeks, HolidayTravelWatch has highlighted concerns for either current holidaymakers to Egypt or those who have already booked their holidays to that destination. We have made clear our deep concern as to the travel advisories that are currently being offered by the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO). We are concerned that whilst the vast majority of the country is essentially barred for travel, there remains two thin strips of land and a route up to St Catherine's Monastery in the Sinai that are apparently safe to travel to. We are also concerned that tour operators are operating a 'blanket' mantra on repeating those advisories, when in fact the FCO has stated openly that tour operators are 'not constrained' nor 'obliged' to use their guidance when considering Consumer Protection, particularly under the Package Travel Regulations.
We have heard from holidaymakers who have recently returned from Egypt; one in particular has related their experience on a Nile Cruise from Luxor.
They advise that:
- They booked their holiday 10 days before departure and were not advised by the travel company of the civil strife that had taken place since the beginning of 2013 up to and including 26 June this year;
- They were not advised by their travel company to review FCO Travel Advices either before or after booking their holiday;
- When they arrived, as they could not hear everything at the welcome meeting, they were advised by the travel company rep afterwards that there was some trouble in Cairo & Luxor;
- The rep advised that they were well away from those areas so there was nothing to worry about;
- The rep advised that there may be disruption to their cruise but they would be advised daily;
- The holidaymakers reported that they experienced changes to their cruise every day;
- They advise that they were told that they would go on the excursions accompanied by a guide but it appears that they were not allowed to wander around the sites/towns/cities on their own;
- The holidaymakers report that they followed the guidelines on tipping but came under pressure each day from hardship stories (because of the crisis) and felt that they were 'pressurised' or 'demanded' to give money - they state that they felt 'intimidated';
- When arriving at one Temple, an armed guard offered to take their photographs, but then demanded money in return;
- They were harassed by local people for money as they left some of the sites;
- One of the holidaymakers suffered a sexual assault;
- They advise that on that ocassion there was a scramble to get back on the coach;
- They advise that local people became very angry and started throwing stones at them;
- They report that whilst on the boat, they could hear gunfire and helicopters flying above;
- The holidaymakers reported that they and their fellow travellers did not know what to do or whether the gunfire was being directed at them;
- The rep advised the holidaymakers that they should not worry as the gunfire was the other side of the River Nile;
- They report that the rep was often in tears and left their boat the day before the cruise ended;
- Three days before the end of the cruise, armed guards were posted to the rear of the boat;
- On disembarkation, the holidaymakers were advised that they would be taken by coach to the airport avoiding the centre of Luxor;
- When the holidaymakers tried to load their suitcases onto the coach, they were again asked for money and if not paid they were apparently thrown off;
- As they were being driven to the airport they were advised that they would be travelling through the centre of Luxor;
- The holidaymakers witnessed 'crowds of people shouting, screaming, police and armed guards';
- When they got to the airport they were again 'hassled' by security guards for money;
- They describe the whole experience as a 'nightmare'.
We note that Luxor does not appear to be classed as a 'safe' area within the current FCO advisory.
Frank Brehany, the Consumer Director for HolidayTravelWatch states:
"I cannot begin to tell you of the effect that this has had on these holidaymakers; their experience is quite shocking. I am very concerned that since the date of this holiday, the situation for holidaymakers has only gotten worse in all areas"
"I am certain that we shall hear of similar returning holidaymaker stories and these will reflect the same experiences of those holidaymakers affected by the crisis in 2011"
"I am sure that within the FCO and within the senior levels of the travel industry there exist honourable people. I am concerned that if these travel advisories are not adjusted soon to advise against 'all but essential travel', we will begin to hear of holidaymakers being injured, or worse! It is time for common sense; time for Consumer rights - I call on those with the ability to change the advisories or to give Consumer their rights to do so without further delay".