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News & Advice

After the tsunami

Advice for readers whose travel plans are affected by the disaster in Asia

Following the Boxing Day disaster, many readers have contacted the travel desk to ask how it will affect their plans. This is a synthesis of the most frequently asked questions.

Following the Boxing Day disaster, many readers have contacted the travel desk to ask how it will affect their plans. This is a synthesis of the most frequently asked questions.

I have a holiday booked in Asia later this month. What are my options?

First, find out if the area you're planning to visit has been hit. In Thailand, Malaysia and India, the majority of beach resorts have not been significantly affected. In particular, the Gulf of Thailand is untouched, as are the Indian states of Kerala and Goa. And even though the Indonesian island of Sumatra has been devastated, most tourist destinations in that country - in particular Bali and Lombok - are unaffected.

My destination has been hit; can I change to somewhere else?

That depends. People booked on package holidays are in a stronger position. If your tour operator is unable to provide the holiday that you booked, you must be offered the choice of a refund or an alternative holiday. Kuoni, the biggest tour operator to the region, says those due to depart imminently to the worst affected regions can claim full refunds, defer travel to a later date or switch destination. Later in January, there should be plenty of availability elsewhere, though the Caribbean is busy.

Be aware that some resorts may be functioning more quickly than you expect. For example, Audley Travel is being non-committal about its plans for customers booked on holidays later in the year: "We are asking them to wait until the situation has calmed down and we can see precisely the damage done to their chosen destination. Once we have this information we will amend their itineraries on a case-by-case basis."

Independent travellers are less well protected. If you have booked a restricted ticket on a flight that is still operating, for example from London to Bangkok, neither your travel agent or the airline is obliged to offer you an alternative. In practice, most carriers are being flexible. For example, Qantas is allowing those people booked to travel on that route before 1 February to claim a refund (though agents may levy a fee), or to defer travel. All these offers have time limitations.

Even though my destination - Kerala in India - is unaffected, I can't face the prospect of going.

"Disinclination to travel" isn't grounds for a refund or other changes. Package holiday companies, many of which have already spent a considerable amount of money dealing with the impact of the tsunami, are not obliged to offer alternatives.

Bales Tours, for example, says that holidays to resorts in Asia that are unaffected by the disaster will depart as planned. A spokeswoman says: "Cancellation charges will apply to those who decide that they no longer wish to travel."

Other companies are being more flexible. A number of tour operators will allow customers to switch destinations, while Thomson is allowing those customers booked to travel in the next two weeks to unaffected areas in the Maldives to cancel with a full refund.

Many airlines are allowing passengers who booked before 26 December to change destinations, defer travel or even claim full refunds. Thai Airlines is allowing anyone with a ticket from London via Bangkok to either Krabi or Phuket to change the last segment to a wide range of destinations on the Thai mainland, or choose from Bali, Vietnam, Hong Kong or Singapore

If I decide to travel to one of the affected regions, is my insurance still valid?

The attitude of many of Britain's travel insurers is that policies issued before the earthquake will retain the same degree of cover as originally purchased, but that policies issued since 26 December may exclude coverage for travel to the affected areas.

I'm safe but apparently my travel insurance isn't valid for events like an earthquake.

Some policies exclude cover for the effects of "acts of God", as they do with terrorist attacks. But judging from the reaction to the hurricanes in the Caribbean and Florida last autumn, travel insurers may well be more generous than they need to be. For example, Sainsbury's Bank says that, "where possible", it will look to cover customers affected by the tsunami disaster even if the policy wording excludes acts of God. It is also extending the validity of single-trip policies to cover customers whose holidays to the region are postponed because of the tsunami.