What To Do Now
The latest advice on travelling to or through the battered region
Sunday 02 January 2005
What is happening to those already on holiday in South-east Asia?
What is happening to those already on holiday in South-east Asia?
Believe it or not, some holidaymakers in remote parts or "get away from it all" destinations may be completely unaware that anything has happened. Others will either have chosen to continue their holiday or will have contacted their travel agent/ tour operator or airline(s) to rebook flights home. Others may have opted to move on to another destination.
What if I am due to travel within the next few days?
The Foreign Office is advising against all but essential travel to the areas hit by the tsunami. Check the travel advice section on www.fco.gov.uk. Tour operators are attempting to monitor information and pass it on to travel agents. If you are due to travel to affected areas you will have the choice of sticking to your itinerary (assuming its components are up and running), cancelling (and, in most cases, receiving a full refund) or postponing your trip. In most cases, if you rebook the same itinerary your money will be carried over - but (not unreasonably) you may have to pay extra if prices for components such as air fares or hotel accommodation are higher for your new dates.
If you rebook another itinerary you will have to pay the difference in costs between the two holidays If you didn't book directly with an airline I don't suggest contacting the relevant airline(s) unless your departure is exceedingly imminent and it is impossible to contact whichever company you booked through.
What does "in most cases" mean?
Commercial policy varies from airline to airline, tour operator to tour operator and travel agent to travel agent. For example, to its credit, British Airways was one of the first to issue a statement on its policy regarding the disaster aftermath. However, at the time of writing, BA's policy statement only addresses passengers flying to or through the affected areas between now and 31 January. Though slower to react, the statement from Singapore Airlines applies to those travelling to or through the relevant areas between now and 31 March. Some airlines may allow rebooking but may not offer full refunds for cancellation. Some operators or agencies may levy amendment fees or cancellation charges.
What if I am booked to travel to an affected area within the next few weeks?
Things will continue to get back to normal and the full extent of the situation at each particular destination will soon be known. Although a number of tour operators, airlines and travel agents recalled some members of staff from their own Christmas/New Year holiday breaks, full staffing levels will return to normal only in the coming week. Tour operators and travel agencies have begun to sift through the special commercial policies that each airline is issuing, and will then be able to review each booking individually. In almost all cases I would expect the answer to the previous question to apply.
What if I am booked to travel to an affected area in the spring or summer?
Air travel may represent excellent value but holidays are still quite an investment and it's only natural that we are concerned and impatient to sort out or own plans. Having said that, I strongly suggest that you try to hold on for another few days at least, because airlines, tour operators and travel agents will be focusing their attentions and resources on those due to depart imminently. The situation is changing so rapidly that it is impossible to look much further ahead. The airlines that have advised agents of their commercial policies regarding the disaster aftermath will review those policies as time passes.
Will I be covered by travel insurance?
Probably not - most policies exclude claims arising from "Acts of God" or "Force Majeure". However, if you have to cancel as a direct result of the disaster and you cannot reclaim all your money, you don't lose anything by pleading your case with the insurers.
I am due to have a stopover in Bangkok on the way to Australia. Should I change my plans?
Bangkok and Thailand's east (Gulf of Thailand) coast were unaffected by last week's awful events so I can see no reason to change your plans. When one hears that there has been a disaster in, for example, Thailand, Malaysia, India, Indonesia or even Sri Lanka, one's immediate reaction is to think that the whole country has been wiped out.
With the exception of the Maldives (and even there damage to some resorts was minimal and they remained open), relatively limited areas were directly affected. Do some research in the days and weeks to come to see how things are at your intended destination or stopover points rather than succumbing to what might be a knee-jerk reaction. Remember that in most destinations local people rely on tourism for their livelihood: everybody will be doing all they can to sort things out as quickly as possible.
David Orkin is a writer and a former director of Quest Worldwide Travel
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