Saturday, 18 June 2016

UK travel agents query FCO warnings plan; Tui challenged by terror victims’ families

CONCERNS about Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) plans to introduce a new category of travel advice highlighting the risks of terrorism or crime in destinations not currently subject to warnings have been raised by the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA).

The FCO will announce the results of a review of its advice to travellers this autumn, following a consultation with industry and consumer groups which ended in April. ABTA fears a change will confuse consumers.

Joanne Roper, FCO director of consular services, told a recent ABTA seminar: ‘We aim to differentiate the types of risk more closely, maybe with a fourth level [of advice] that it is generally safe to travel, but be aware that the risks of crime or the terrorist threat are higher than at home.’

The FCO currently rates the safety of areas on three levels. These are shown on country maps on its website in green (safe but consult the advice), amber (advise against all but essential travel) or red (advise against all travel). Most popular destinations, apart from Tunisia, are presently shown in green.

The new tier would sit between green and amber.

Nikki White, ABTA’s head of destinations and sustainability, said: ‘The existing system is well recognized and works well. What will “You’re able to travel, but there is a heightened risk” relate to? We’ve been given no examples. Where will it leave consumers? It’s quite clear now when advice changes from green to amber. We foresee increased confusion. And what will be the impact on a destination if advice changes after people book and they think “Do I want to go?” ’

The review comes as families of 16 of the 30 British holidaymakers murdered in the beach massacre in Sousse last June questioned the role of Tui and other companies in marketing holidays to Tunisia.

Legal papers submitted on behalf of the families to an inquest into the deaths accuse Tui of ignoring security warnings, ‘enticing’ holidaymakers with cheap offers, and deterring people from cancelling by refusing refunds. They also suggest that updated FCO advice was not mentioned on Tui’s website, in its brochures, or on booking forms. The victims’ families claim Tui offered 40% discounts on Sousse holidays, despite concerns following the terrorist attack at a museum in Tunis in March last year.

At a pre-inquest hearing at the High Court, Tui’s lawyers said the company did not accept claims about its pricing policy or that it was obliged to carry FCO advice on its site.

The full inquest is not expected to begin until January.

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