Global unrest forces UK holidaymakers to rethink breaks

People swimming in the sea Image copyright EPA
Image caption Winter sun or summer fun, the list of destinations for holidaymakers has just become shorter

Political unrest in The Gambia has struck another holiday destination off the list for UK travellers.

The Foreign Office has advised against all but essential travel to the west African country and holiday companies are in the process of getting tourists back home.

Travel agents are busy cancelling bookings and finding alternative destinations for people expecting to go on a break.

But what other popular destinations are regarded as risky by the British government and where else are travellers turning to?

Terror attacks have had a big effect on destination choices for UK holidaymakers.

Tunisia used to see 440,000 people a year choose the country as their holiday destination, boasting sandy beaches and relatively short flights for sunshine all-year round.

But after a gunman opened fire on a beach and hotel in the resort near Sousse in June 2015, killing 38 people - 30 of whom were Britons - the situation changed dramatically.

The Foreign Office is still advising against all travel to a number of its borders, and against all but essential travel to the rest of that country.

Flights are also harder to come by, with no access from the UK to Monastir or Enfidah airports.

Egypt is another country in north Africa to have suffered from attacks.

Image caption The Foreign Office says around 865,000 UK nationals visited Egypt in 2015

The Foreign Office is advising against all travel to North Sinai and all but essential travel to South Sinai, as well as the area west of the Nile Valley and Nile Delta regions.

Egypt's highly popular tourist hotspot Sharm el Sheikh is not covered by the warning.

But after a flight from the local airport to St Petersburg crashed in October 2015 - which Russian authorities believe was caused by an explosive device on board - the UK government has warned against flying there, making the resort difficult to get to.

Turkey saw UK bookings drop by 30% last year, according to market research from GSK.

Although the Foreign Office is only advising against all but essential travel in a small number of areas on the Syrian and Iraqi border, it has said there is a "high threat" from terrorism, including in Istanbul and Ankara.

It said attacks are most likely to target the Turkish state, civilians and demonstrations. But after 39 people - two-thirds of whom were foreign - were killed in a shooting at a nightclub on New Year's Day, tourists are clearly being targeted too.

Closer to home

Countries closer to UK shores are also being affected.

France has seen a fall in bookings of 15%, according to GFK, with high profile terror attacks in Nice and Paris seeing travellers look elsewhere.

The Foreign Office has not warned against going to France, but advises that there is a "high threat" from terrorism and that the French government has extended its national state of emergency until July.

Image copyright PA
Image caption France has been hit by deadly attacks, including one in Nice during Bastille Day celebrations

The same approach has been taken with regard to visits to Germany after attacks in Berlin and Munich, with visitors urged to be vigilant and follow the instructions of local authorities.

Travel advice has been updated for The Gambia because of the political situation there.

Gambian president Yahya Jammeh was due to hand over power to the winner of the country's December elections, Adama Barrow, by the end of Wednesday.

But he has claimed there was "extraordinary" foreign interference in his country's affairs and has refused to step down by the deadline.

West African military forces are stationed at the border and ready to enforce a transfer of power.

Mr Barrow has said he would take part in an inauguration ceremony on Thursday at the Gambian embassy in Senegal.

As a result, the Foreign Office said there was "ongoing political uncertainty and potential military intervention" in the country.

Tour operators have been putting on extra flights to bring thousands of tourists home from the holiday destination that is popular with Europeans.

Destination winners

Faced with these various warnings and advisories, many Britons are looking to more traditional destinations to get their holiday fix.

Spain has been a big winner, with GSK figures showing a 26% rise in 2016, building on increases over the past two years.

Ocean cruise bookings are also up 38%, alongside bookings to Greece (up 25%), Cyprus bookings (up 28%), and Portugal (up 25%).

David Hope, business group director at GFK, said: "With the continued uncertainty for travel destinations due to terrorism and political unrest, one thing seems certain, the UK holidaymakers are continuing to favour the traditional Mediterranean destinations.

"Based on Winter 2016/17 bookings, the Canaries are doing particularly well as an alternative affordable winter sun destination, seeing its market share rise two points to 33%. Mainland Spain, Portugal and Cyprus are also performing well, especially around the shoulder months [the months adjacent to summer] of November and April."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption City of culture events in Hull are expected to draw more visitors

For those with a little extra cash to spend, long-haul destinations are also seeing a rise in bookings - with the Caribbean, Cape Verde and Mexico tipped to be popular.

A spokeswoman from travel association ABTA said: "Early bookings are looking very strong, which may be a reaction to people's experience last summer when there was exceptionally strong demand for the western Mediterranean and people struggled to secure their preferred resort or destination.

"Travel companies are used to managing shifts in consumer demand and trends for different destinations. They have increased capacity in the western Mediterranean and in certain long-haul destinations, such as the Caribbean and Dubai, to meet demand."

More people are taking their breaks at home as well, even if it means forgoing the guarantee of sunshine.

New figures from VisitEngland released this month showed that Britons took almost 15 million holidays at home in the first five months of 2015 - the highest number since 2011.

Britons spent £45.3bn on domestic day trips in the first 11 months of 2016, setting a new record for the organisation's survey.

"The UK's tourism industry has the opportunity to benefit from the weakened pound with more Brits holidaying at home with the certainty of budgeting for a UK holiday," said a VisitEngland spokeswoman.

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