The Foreign Office has strengthened its warnings for British travellers to Egypt. It follows an attack on a tourist bus in the resort of Taba on 16 February, in which three South Korean tourists and the Egyptian driver were killed. Security at Egyptian holiday resorts has been stepped up after a warning purportedly made by a militant Islamist group against tourists. How could your holiday be affected?
Q What exactly is the Foreign Office saying?
The government’s official advice is basically prescribing a lockdown in the main resort of Sharm El Sheikh. The majority of British tourists in Egypt are located in this resort, which is in the south Sinai area – close to where Sunday’s attack took place. The Foreign Office has warned holidaymakers against straying beyond Sharm El Sheikh’s “perimeter barrier”. This cordon was imposed around the resort following a terrorist attack in the resort in 2005 in which 88 people died.
The area inside the security zone is deemed safe. Accordingly, holidays will continue as normal, but all excursions beyond the security cordon have been cancelled. Previously, the strip of Red Sea shoreline from Sharm to Dahab and Taba on the Israeli border was regarded as safe.
Q What does that mean for people who are on holiday there – or who are booked to travel in the next few weeks or months?
Anyone in Sharm El Sheikh will be expected to continue with their holiday until the day they are booked to fly home, and anyone with a holiday planned will not be able to cancel without losing some or all of their money. To paraphrase the attitude of the tour operators, “normal terms and conditions apply” – flights to Sharm El Sheikh are still operating, and last-minute holidays to the resort are still on sale.
That would change only if the Foreign Office warned against travel to Sharm El Sheikh, in which case holidaymakers in the resort would be repatriated and no further flights would be operated until the travel advice changed; anyone with an imminent booking would get a full refund.
Q What about travellers elsewhere in Sinai?
A small number of British holidaymakers - mainly dive enthusiasts - are thought to be in Dahab and Taba. If they are on package holidays then the operators will be taking steps to repatriate them. Those booked to travel to these resorts on packages should get a full refund.
Independent travellers have no such protection; in order for their travel insurance to remain valid they will need to leave the area quickly.
Q How seriously is the threat against tourists being taken?
A There’s uncertainty about the veracity of the threat. It was posted on an unofficial Twitter account claiming to represent Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, a group linked to Al Qaeda. The Foreign Office has no doubt that the group carried out Sunday’s attack on a South Korean tour bus, and says that “The group has threatened further attacks against Egypt’s economic interests”. As repeated atrocities in Egypt have shown, the softest of economic targets are overseas tourists.
On Wednesday, however, Egypt’s Minister of Tourism put out a statement saying the threat was not credible, and insisting that every security measure is being taken to prevent a re-occurrence. But that is what the authorities said after each of the attacks against tourists in Egypt - starting with the Luxor massacre in 1997 in which 62 people, including six British travellers, died.
For the full Foreign Office travel advice see www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/egypt