Kate Simon: You can't take a holiday from the times we live in

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The Independent Travel

It hasn't been a great start to the new year for the tourist industry, with floods in Brazil and Australia, the murder of Michaela McAreavey in her hotel room on Mauritius, and revolution in Tunisia.

But should this come as a surprise? As our horizons broaden and our ability to explore them becomes easier, surely it is more likely that we might be caught up in local strife, especially in a world reeling from the effects of climate change and economic crisis.

If it proves that Mrs McAreavey died after disturbing burglars in her room, as suspected, she will be another tragic, if rare, example of what can happen when the worlds of the wealthy tourist and impoverished local collide.

Her murder has sent shock waves through the Indian Ocean island, which is renowned as a safe choice of destination for tourists, revealing that even those places perceived as stable are now not immune to the sharpening financial woes of the world.

The current situation in Tunisia provides a clear illustration of the consequences of these turbulent times. The toppling of President Ben-Ali was a long time in coming, The population was subjected to 23 years of repression, but it was the impact of the global economic crisis, rising food prices and unemployment that finally forced people on to the streets to end his rule.

And so, pictures of British tourists cutting short their holidays to return to the safety of home filled our screens as Europe's big tour operators scrambled to bring their customers back. All this at just the moment when Tunisia should have been raking in the cash from Europeans seeking milder winter climes.

The events in Tunisia will send leaders across the region into panic. Will we soon be hearing about a mass exodus of tourists from the beaches of Egypt, which, at time of going to print, was teetering on the edge of unrest?

In these austere times, we may still, just about, have the cash to take a break from ordinary life. But in a world engulfed in crisis, places to escape to could become fewer and fewer.

Good news for gay couples last week, when a judge awarded damages of £1,800 each to Martyn Hall and his civil partner, Steven Preddy, for being turned away from a Cornwall B&B. The guesthouse owners, Peter and Hazelmary Bull, maintain they do not believe that unmarried couples should share a room and are considering an appeal.

Let's hope that they, and other B&B owners with similar dubious views, take heed of the judge's words: "It is a very clear example of how social attitudes have changed ... it is not so very long ago that the beliefs of the defendants would have been accepted as normal by society at large. Now it is the other way around."

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