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Tunisia holidays: British tourists defiant about terror threat as first Thomas Cook flight returns today

‘You can’t let them win, can you? You’ve got to support the people’

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Tuesday 13 February 2018 09:58
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Tunisia holidays: British tourists defiant about terror threat as first Thomas Cook flies to the country

The first British package holidaymakers to travel to Tunisia for almost three years have vowed not to let the spectre of terrorism spoil their holidays.

More than 200 passengers aboard a Thomas Cook Airlines flight took off from Birmingham airport just after 6am, destination Enfidha – about 50 miles south of the capital, Tunis.

All flights on UK airlines, and package holidays, were cancelled in the summer of 2015 after two terrorist atrocities aimed at tourists.

In March of that year, 20 cruise passengers on an excursion were killed at the Bardo Museum in Tunis.

Three months later, a lone Islamist gunman, Seifeddine Rezgui, rampaged through the Riu Imperial Marhaba Hotel in the resort of Sousse. He murdered 38 people, including 30 British tourists on holiday with tourism travel company TUI, before himself being shot by security forces.

In the wake of the attack on 26 June 2015, the Foreign Office warned against travel to Tunisia, and an airlift was organised to evacuate holidaymakers. Tunisia was taken off the no-go list in July 2017, but no major tour operator has returned until today.

First to arrive for check-in was Tina Stephens from Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales, who was in Tunisia at the time of the Sousse attack in 2015.

She said: “I’m a bit nervous, because I didn’t know we were on the first one, and we were out there the last time when the terrorist attack was on. We were staying in the hotel down the road.

“But we love the country, so as soon as we knew there was another flight going, we thought we’d be going back out there.

“It’s just a lovely place, and the people are so lovely, and we love the medinas, and exploring. I don’t know if we’ll be able to do it this time, but we’ll try.”

Bob Elphick from Okehampton in Devon was checking in at the start of a six-week holiday. He was in Tunisia in January 2011, when the “Arab Spring” began, and along with thousands of other holidaymakers was evacuated on Foreign Office advice.

“We had to come home, though we didn’t want to,” he said. “We’re really looking forward to it again.”

The Foreign Office currently warns: “Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Tunisia.”

Mr Elphick said: “You can’t let them win, can you? You’ve got to support the people.”

His view was shared by Pauline Charlesworth of Nottingham, who said: “I’m not really frightened because it’s everywhere now. There’s trouble everywhere.”

Holiday prices are very low compared with costs to other Mediterranean destinations, including the nearby island of Malta. A month from today, a week’s all-inclusive holiday from Birmingham is available to Les Orangers Beach Resort in Hammamet for only £276. A similar package the following day from Manchester to Malta is 80 per cent more expensive, at £498.

At present Thomas Cook is the only large UK operator to Tunisia. Carol Mackenzie, the firm’s group head of customer welfare, said: “We’re starting in just a few resorts, mainly near Hammamet, where we’re confident we can offer the high quality our customers expect.

“We benefit from having had a holiday programme and resort team in place for our German, Belgian and French customers, whose governments did not recommend against travel to Tunisia.”

TUI returns to Tunisia on 1 May, with flights from Birmingham, Bristol, Gatwick and Manchester. It is selling a week’s all-inclusive holiday departing Bristol on the first day for £285.

Rachel James from Evesham said she was looking forward to “a bit of sunshine, a bit of friendliness and some good food”.

“You’ve got to go, you’ve got to open their country up again,” she said.

And Tina Stephens wanted to send a simple message to travellers: “Just get on the plane and get out there.”

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