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Adventure tour operators to Middle East caught in dilemma

Just a few weeks after package tour operators found themselves struggling with repatriations from Tunisia and Egypt, the Libyan civil war exploded.

The UK’s biggest package tour operators, including Thomson and Thomas Cook, were caught on the hop with tens of thousands of winter holidaymakers in resorts and other destinations in Egypt and Tunisia when the pro-democracy riots began. Repatriation was a struggle, but sighs of relief were short-lived across the adventure tour sector when Libya burst into revolutionary flames.

The speed of the revolt and the violence of the regime’s response took everyone by surprise, and, while Libya isn’t exactly a favourite sun and sea destination, it’s popular with adventure tourists booking with specialist companies such as Wild Frontiers.

The group has plenty of experience of plucking people out of escalating conflict zones, with recent events such as Russia’s aggressive march into Georgia, floods in Pakistan and revolutions in Kirgizstan causing headaches. Libya, however, happened so fast it caught everyone by surprise – including the British government, it seems.
A week ago, a Wild Frontiers adventure tour group arrived in Tripoli, having been assured by the Foreign Office cancellation wasn’t necessary.

Luck was with the tour firm and their clients, who returned last Wednesday on a last-minute flight with a Libyan airline, having managed to avoid being shot at, robbed or otherwise damaged in the meantime. Repatriation and holiday cancellations cost  money, however, with many smaller tour operators struggling as a result of the unrest spreading across the entire region and no-one sure where the next protests will break out.

Holidaymakers’ rights to refunds from tour operators depend, unfortunately, on Foreign Office travel advice. ‘Essential travel only’ is the get-out clause for refunds, with anything else from the FO likely to result only in an offer of another destination by your tour company, hopefully nowhere in the Middle East. Anyone booked to travel over the next days or weeks is likely to be in a dilemma, especially if marches or demonstrations as shown on TV provoke no response from the FO.

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