As Turkey moves closer to the EU, the Post Office in Britain has deemed that the nation lies entirely beyond Europe. Last month, at the start of the school summer holidays, the Post Office moved the boundaries used for its travel insurance policies to exclude Turkey from European cover. Even the European part of Turkey, including Istanbul, is deemed as lying outside the Continent for insurance purposes.
A British woman who bought a policy for her package holiday in the resort of Kusadasi discovered she was not covered only when she was hospitalised. Rebecca Thomas, 22, a retail manager from Solihull, was admitted for treatment for a stomach complaint. But when she contacted the travel insurers, she was told her she was not covered. Her father, David Thomas, is paying the bill – currently standing at £1,400 – by credit card. Yesterday he said: "The Post Office are perfectly entitled to change their geographical coverage, but Turkey is such a big destination that they should make it absolutely clear on the website."
For travellers buying online, such as Rebecca Thomas, the change is revealed only by clicking on a small question mark icon on the Post Office's web page offering travel insurance quotes.
Last year, 2.7 million British citizens visited Turkey. Travel insurance policies covering European holidays have traditionally included it, as well as other nations bordering the Mediterranean. The Post Office followed this practice until 15 July, when it decided to exclude Turkey – together with Egypt. Travellers to these two countries who choose Post Office travel insurance must buy a "Rest of the World" policy, priced at £37 for a week – more than twice as much as the price for Europe. Policies issued before 15 July this year are unaffected.
James Eadie, a spokesman for the Post Office, said: "This change was made to reflect the increased cost in providing this cover. The price charged for the Rest of the World policy is more reflective of the costs associated with the level of claims we are experiencing for Turkey and Egypt."
Both countries specialise in "all-inclusive" holidays, which critics say encourages excessive drinking and thereby increases the risks to travellers. Turkey and Egypt also have very dangerous roads compared with the UK. Although the Foreign Office reports that a relatively small proportion of travellers – one in 5,000 – sought consular assistance, the Post Office move suggests that it was paying out more in claims than it was receiving for policies.
Two of the Post Office's leading rivals, Columbus and InsureandGo, continue to regard Turkey and Egypt as part of Europe. Bob Atkinson, of TravelSupermarket.com, said "Standard practice has always been that Europe is everything west of the Urals, and Turkey has always been considered as Europe by travel insurance companies. It is confusing for customers for them to be treating this differently to the bulk of other companies in the market place."
Despite moving Turkey and Egypt to the "Rest of the World", the Post Office continues to offer "European" cover for visitors to Algeria, Israel and Morocco – all nations carrying strong Foreign Office warnings about risks to travellers.
Case study: 'We never thought she wasn't covered'
Rebecca Thomas, 22, works as a retail manager at the Bullring Centre in Birmingham. She booked a last-minute package holiday to the resort of Kusadasi on the Mediterranean coast – a favourite with many British travellers. Turkey has been the Med's success story of the 21st century, due to its combination of reliable sun, classical heritage and sheer good value.
Before her trip, Rebecca went online to buy travel insurance from the Post Office. "Neither she nor I thought for a second that 'Europe' wouldn't include Turkey," said her father, David.
When Rebecca was hospitalised with a stomach complaint and learned the policy excluded Turkey, David contacted the underwriter, Ageas, who told him to take up the matter with the Post Office. He has filed an online complaint. Her bill stands at £1,400. Meanwhile, Rebecca hopes to fly home as planned tomorrow. David Thomas reports that "the private hospital in Kusadasi were very comprehensive in their treatment and extremely helpful and courteous".
Israel receives 165,000 British visitors a year with one in 3,000 requiring consular assistance. While it remains under the threat of terrorist attacks, claims for more everyday problems associated with Turkey are relatively rare, keeping insurance costs low.
Although 17 people were recently killed by a bomb in busy tourist square in Marrakesh, Morocco is deemed a lesser risk. Only about 1 in 3,500 of the 362,000 British visitors require assistance, but its abstinence from alcohol, among other things, means it is not thought to be the source of many minor issues resulting in insurance claims.
Off limits: Turkey
Despite welcoming 2.7 million British visitors a year, a relatively small number – 1 in 5,000 – require consular assistance. It is perhaps the nature of their troubles, however, behind the high cost of insurance. Traffic accidents are common, according to the Foreign Office, and "all-inclusive" trips are blamed for encouraging excessive drinking.
The terrorist threat is high, but only 1 in every 800 of the 10,000 British visitors need consular help. The Foreign Office warns visitors to "exercise extreme caution", but the country is bracketed with Europe due to the low cost of insuring visitors.