Ask the Traveller: Tunisian unrest

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The Independent Travel

On 12 January I booked with Thomas Cook for four of us to go to Tunisia on 27 February. I would have thought the staff may have brought the unrest to our attention. They are now refusing to amend the booking without charge and refusing a refund without cancellation fees. We really need to get our holiday sorted and confirmed as soon as possible and not a week or two prior to departure. Margaret Jewkes, Evesham

While there was certainly unrest in Tunisia at the time you booked, it was far from the wide-scale insurrection that began a few days later. Unless the Foreign Office has a specific warning against travel – which did not come into effect until late on 14 January – a travel agent is not obliged to warn about the risks. So, like tens of thousands of other holidaymakers with bookings to Tunisia, you are in the uncomfortable position of having little choice but to wait and see.

If the Foreign Office judges there still to be a risk, the tour operator will cancel the holiday and give you a full refund (unless you are prepared to accept an alternative). Thomas Cook and its rival Thomson/First Choice say that normal cancellation policies apply to anyone who decides to cancel a holiday to Tunisia. For those booked at Easter, this amounts only to the deposit – but in your case, if you cancel between four weeks and 11 days before departure, you lose 70 per cent of the purchase price; 10 days ahead, and your loss increases to 90 per cent. Sadly, this is what you agreed to when you bought the holiday.

The best reassurance we can offer is that previous experience suggests the unrest will quickly calm in Tunisia, not least because one thing upon which all sides agree is the importance of tourism. But if the holiday is cancelled, your travel dates are still low season. That means you should be able to find an agreeable alternative without too much trouble – although if you are unhappy with Thomas Cook, you may choose to claim a refund for your Tunisia trip and book with a different firm.