April 26, 2019 | AITO – Association of Independent Tour Operators
Yesterday’s change in FCO (Foreign & Commonwealth Office) Travel Advice means that tour operators with clients booked to travel to Sri Lanka, including AITO members, will be in touch with their clients to discuss the options available to them. Customers may wish to defer their trip in the short term – or, if their visit was planned, for example, as a honeymoon and is thus time-sensitive, may prefer to change if possible to a different destination and to depart as planned, immediately post wedding.
One of the benefits of booking with a tour operator is that, regardless of the fact that funds will already have been sent to accommodation providers in Sri Lanka, refunding customers in full is compulsory under EU and British law – despite any cancellation terms in booking conditions. Those who booked independently have no such protection. NB Terrorism is considered to be force majeure, so no compensation is payable.
At present, the tour operators’ priority is to resolve bookings due for departure in the immediate short term (say a week or so away); tour operators’ attention will turn to later bookings as soon as is feasible. If you have made a reservation to travel later in the year, and have paid a deposit, it is unlikely that the deposit will be repaid until much nearer the time; operators will be considering their position on a weekly basis, as will the FCO.
If booking amendments are requested to bookings in the near future (a week or so away), specialist tour operators will certainly do their best to assist customers as much as possible and to find alternatives, or will give a full refund. If the operator also provides holidays in other Asian destinations, especially if the airline booked for Sri Lanka also serves other holiday spots in the region, things may be easier to switch, although the pressure will be on to source new flights, accommodation of the same standard, guides, etc., quite possibly at higher prices than those originally booked due to demand.
Travel insurance is worth checking to see if it covers cancellation due to terrorist activity; policies at the premium end of the range may well include such cover.
How long will the current Travel Advice remain in force? That’s difficult to know, as destinations such as Tunisia and Egypt will attest. Tour operators and the local travel industry in Sri Lanka will be hoping that matters can be resolved speedily, but no-one yet knows how quickly or otherwise this might be. The FCO’s advice is careful and measured of necessity; operators hope, naturally, that things will revert to normal as soon as possible so that they can again wholeheartedly recommend travel to Sri Lanka.
If travellers wish to go ahead with their holiday booking as planned, tour operators may suggest some small itinerary changes in the light of recent events from a safety perspective and will be keeping in close touch with their clients in Sri Lanka. NB it is important to check that your insurance cover is still valid.
What about clients in Sri Lanka at present who wish to return home? Tour operators will of course offer clients the opportunity to fly home if they wish, although safety has to be the operators’ number one priority and, if clients are safest where they currently are, tour operators are likely to advise remaining in situ.
Says AITO Director, Sam Clark (Experience Travel Group, which specialises in Asia, including Sri Lanka): “The attacks on Easter Sunday were a shock to us all after the past 10 years of peace and stability in Sri Lanka. It won’t put me off visiting this delightful destination, but of course it is likely to cause a stall in visitor numbers for the next few months, which will adversely affect local suppliers and thus, unfortunately, fulfil one of the terrorists’ aims.”
He continues: “I am confident that Sri Lanka’s cultural and wildlife/safari offerings, coupled with its amazing coastline and beaches, and of course its charming and welcoming people, will assert a powerful draw to keen travellers before long. I know, too, that the welcome to those who visit will be the warmest and most hospitable that Sri Lankans can make it.
“Having been in touch with some of our clients in Sri Lanka personally over the last few days, I’ve told them that they are probably safer staying where they are, as long as they follow the FCO Advice (below); they agree with me and are making the most of their trip to this jewel of an island.”
FCO Advice for travellers who decide to continue with their trip to Sri Lanka: Keep a low profile; act discreetly; avoid crowds; observe any curfews in place; avoid places of worship/places where those from the UK/Europe/USA gather; be vigilant, especially around the date of any significant religious occasions; subscribe to FCO email alerts and the FCO Twitter feed for updates; keep your mobile charged and ensure that emergency numbers are programmed into your phone; be discreet on social media about your travelling/social plans; keep family/colleagues posted ref your whereabouts/when you plan to return; always try to have a Plan B in mind for wherever you are.
Issued on behalf of AITO (www.aito.com, The Specialist Travel Association).
To speak to AITO Director Sam Clark or his fellow AITO members featuring Sri Lankan holiday options, please contact Travel PR – Sue Ockwell, Jackie Franklin, Laura Manning or Charlotte Griffiths – on 020 8891 4440, or by email (firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com).