Travelling in an era of unrest
Published 05/03/2011 | 05:00
In the light of troubled times that have hit the Middle East recently, many travellers with plans to visit the region are understandably concerned.
From Morocco to Dubai, political unrest has the potential to rear its head at any moment, leaving holidaymakers in limbo as to whether to cancel and seek a refund for their trip or take a chance and travel. But your rights are not as clear cut as they might seem.
Here is a general guide to what you need to know before you go.
Will I get a refund if I cancel my package holiday?
You don't have a legal right to a refund unless the Department of Foreign Affairs advises against travel to the destination concerned.
As we went to press, the latest advice relating to Egypt was still warning travellers to avoid key tourist destinations in the country, such as Cairo, but Luxor and the Red Sea Resorts, including Sharm el Sheikh, were said to be safe.
There was no advice against travel to Morocco, but people were warned that any increase in tension might lead to a revision and that regional unrest had the potential to trigger popular unrest.
Similar cautionary notes were sounded in relation to Tunisia, and a warning that people visiting the popular tourist resorts along the coast should exercise extreme caution. As for Libya, the advice is that tourists should not enter the country. See dfa.ie for details.
Tour operators will not want to cancel more holidays than they have to, so they will normally make decisions from week to week, based on the latest official guidelines. If the advice is against "all but essential travel" to a destination, the tour operator must allow customers to cancel and receive a refund.
The problem is that no one knows how long the unrest will last, how it will affect travellers or whether it might spread to other countries. Those booked to travel in the next few days and weeks are left in an uncertain situation. Smaller operators may allow you to postpone your trip at no cost, but there's no guarantee.
I have arranged an independent trip. Will I get a refund if I cancel?
If you have booked your holiday independently, you have much less financial protection and no legal right to receive a refund if you decide not to fly (unless you have paid for an expensive, fully flexible ticket).
Your airline may offer you some flexibility, although, strictly speaking, it is not obliged to.
Even if you manage to delay your flight or obtain a refund for your ticket, you will still be responsible for paying for any hotels -- or other services -- that you have booked.
What if I am offered an alternative destination and don't want to travel?
If you have booked with one of the bigger tour operators, you may be offered the chance to switch your holiday to an alternative destination. If this happens, the holiday should be of a similar value.
Whether or not you are obliged to accept this as an alternative to a refund depends on the latest advice (see above). If the advice is not to travel, then you must be allowed to opt for full refund.
What about travel insurance?
Most insurers will not cover the cost of cancelling your flight or holiday because of what they will see as "a disinclination to travel". The exact terms vary from policy to policy. Check the small print.