Simon Calder's Holiday Helpdesk: Can Thomson decline to reimburse us for our half-term booking in Sharm el Sheikh?

 

Q Are Thomson legally allowed not to reimburse our full balance for a half-term holiday in Sharm el Sheikh? I do not want to spend my hard-earned money being scared to go out.

Wendy Grant, Sheffield

A Following the slaughter of hundreds of protesters on the streets of Cairo and elsewhere, Thomson says, with some understatement: "You may be concerned about your holiday in Egypt following news reports about demonstrations taking place and the current unrest in the country". But Thomson and its all-inclusive partner, First Choice, as well as its rivals such as Thomas Cook, are imposing their standard conditions on everyone booked to travel to Egypt's Red Sea resorts. That means you would lose some or all of the money you have paid if you cancel.

By way of reassurance, Thomson says: "Our resort teams are reporting that our customers are continuing to enjoy their holidays". Thomas Cook echoes that its packages are "unaffected and are operating as normal," though it has cancelled excursions beyond the immediate area of the resorts.

Currently the Foreign Office advises against all but essential travel to almost everywhere in Egypt, but crucially this does not apply to the Red Sea resorts of Sharm el Sheikh, Taba, Marsa Alam and Hurghada.

A holiday company is obliged to take action only if and when the FCO says "don't go". If this happens, and your holiday is cancelled, you are entitled to your choice of an alternative destination or a full refund.

You may have read that some other governments are warning against travel everywhere in Egypt, including the Red Sea resorts. This is the same pattern that emerged early in 2011, at the time of the insurrection that deposed President Mubarak. Most Western governments eventually urged against travel to Egypt, but Britain's Foreign Office maintained that the Red Sea - which receives by far the most UK visitors - was safe.

The turmoil across the nation this time around seems much deeper, so it may be that the Foreign Office will change its advice. But even if this happens in the next few days, do not assume you will be able to cancel immediately: holiday companies will hope that the situation calms and that trips a couple of months from now can go ahead as normal.

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