Anyone on holiday at the Riu Bellevue Park Hotel in Sousse last week had a terrible experience. If they were lucky enough to escape with their lives, they would have been anxious to get out of Tunisia as quickly as possible. Those staying in nearby hotels must have had similar thoughts – get home as quickly as you can.
But is that wise?
On this occasion, the terrorists were either amateurs or maybe did not want to inflict the maximum possible damage, knowing they had already done enough to destroy Tunisia’s tourism business. Had they really wanted to cause carnage, a bomb or mass shooting at Sousse airport on Saturday would surely have done the trick. Even if security at the airport had been beefed up, with hundreds of people queuing desperately for flights out of the country, there would have been plenty of opportunity.
When a country is hit by terrorism, it is a completely understandable reaction to try to leave as quickly as possible. Terrorists know that and they know that airports are difficult to protect, particularly when they are struggling to cope with a huge influx of desperate travellers.
Staying put, at least until the dust settles, is often the safest option.
Since the Arab Spring, European tour operators have been kept on tenterhooks by their governments about whether they would be allowed to continue sending tourists to Egypt. Some countries banned all travel, some to certain areas whilst bans were lifted and re-imposed without co-ordination between governments. Now, Egypt is slowly coming back on to the “all clear” list throughout Europe and yet, the most serious risk to the lives of foreign tourists is just as great as it has ever been.
Yesterday, at least 33 people were killed outside Sharm el Sheikh when a bus carrying tourists collided with another bus. There have been at least five deadly coach crashes in the tourist areas of Sharm el Sheikh and Hurghada in the last few years. Egyptian roads are bad and the local standard of driving is worse. It would take any government a long time to improve Egypt’s shocking level of road fatalities – but the current Egyptian government could solve the specific problem of accidents in these two tourist areas quite easily.
Both Sharm el Sheikh and Hurghada are newly-created towns. The roads are in relatively good condition and, since the towns only exist for tourism, there is much less traffic than in the crowded cities of Cairo and Alexandria. Most tourists arrive at the airport, get transferred the short distance to their hotels by taxi and then, if they leave the hotels at all, do so for short trips by taxi or, maybe, a slightly longer coach excursion. There are only a handful of roads used. It would be very easy to install almost blanket-policing of these routes and stop drivers speeding or over-taking on blind corners (the apparent cause of most accidents). Once a few coachdrivers had lost their licenses or operators been fined heavily, the message would get home.
Egypt’s tourist industry has had a lot to contend with, much of which has been outside its control, but the government can solve this problem quite easily.
There must be no more coach crashes in Sharm el Sheikh or Hurghada.
A few months ago, the FCO issued a warning against all but essential travel to parts of the Kenyan coast including the city of Mombasa due to concern about an increase in the risk of terrorism. They have now followed this up with an additional warning against travel to Lamu.
The Kenyan government reacted with fury to the first warning, accusing Britain of over-reacting. In the weeks since the first warning at least eighty Kenyans have been killed in attacks near to the regions highlighted by the travel bans. The US, France and Australia, amongst others, have also imposed warnings or restrictions on travel to parts of Kenya.
Unfortunately, terrorism is not new and governments in many popular tourist destinations have to work hard at both containing the threat and convincing foreign governments that their countries are safe to visit.
Egypt is a hugely popular tourist destination which has faced travel bans in the last few years. The original bans were due to unrest following the Arab Spring revolution and whilst most countries have lifted those bans, concern has remained over Sharm el Sheikh which is in an isolated area and potentially open to terrorist attack. Russia and Germany recently banned travel to the region but Britain did not take immediate action. Instead, FCO security specialists were invited by the Egyptian government to survey the region for themselves and assess the risks and the measures that were being taken to counter the danger. The experts returned to London satisfied and no travel ban was imposed. The Germans and Russians have now rescinded their bans.
That seems to be a text-book way of handling the problem. Sadly, it is not a method copied by the Kenyans. Their response to the outbreak of terrorism near Lamu and the British advisory has been to launch a laughable tit-for-tat warning for Kenyans not to travel via Heathrow Airport because of terrorist threats.
The intelligent, measured response versus the clueless.
The Kenyan people and their valuable tourist industry deserve better.
There’ve been a number about for a few years now, but the proliferation of Virgins is now a source of potential confusion, particularly for travellers to Australia from the UK.
If you look on fare comparison sites, you may spot two different fares from Virgin. The UK-based Virgin Atlantic still flies from London to Hong Kong and on to Sydney, but Virgin Australia (which is now rather more loosely connected to the Virgin group) also flies from Australia to Abu Dhabi from where it codeshares with Etihad to the UK. Many of the flights sold from Australia to Abu Dhabi with Virgin Australia codes are actually operated by Etihad as well. Unless it is important to you to fly on one sector with Virgin Australia, you should also look at the fares being offered by Etihad since they may be different.
One site you really ought to know about is www.flightstats.com. It started off being very US-centric, but now a lot more of the world is covered. So when you enter the IATA code for more or less any major airport worldwide, you can see the Departures and Arrivals information for that day.
But it’s useful not just for checking on the progress of a flight you are waiting for, but also for having a bit of a browse before you book. A quick check on Flightstats before booking may help you plan your journey more efficiently – for example, if you need to take a regional flight from, say, Singapore to Phuket or Las Vegas to Phoenix, you could check the route over a period of a few days to see whether that specific flight is often delayed or if the airport itself suffers delays at that time of day.
All airlines have their quirks – low-cost carriers perhaps more than most. EasyJet’s carry-on bags policy is, for instance, generous to a T on the weight front but rather brutal in terms of their insistence of “One item only” – leading to many a Pret A Manger sandwich being squelched between an iPad and a change of underwear in a frenzy at the gate. And we all know about Ryanair’s financially motivated gate staff’s enforcement of the airline’s particularly stringent weight and size restrictions of carry-on items.
Compared to these competitors, the Norwegian experience is refreshing. On the one hand, their weight allowances are more generous than Ryanair and are not strictly enforced, and a practical approach to additional items means that there is no anxiety over whether or not you will have room for airport purchases when you board.
However, one thing that Norwegian may need to look at as it expands out from its Scandinavian heartland is its onboard pricelist. How does a cup of tea or instant coffee at €3.50 grab you? Or a “Little Grazing Snack Box” containing (small) bags of crackers and nuts at €7.50? Fine perhaps for the bergers of Oslo or Stavanger, but a little eye-watering for the rest of us.
The lesson is to buy before you board. Obvious perhaps when leaving the UK from airports that have outlets (such as Pret A Manger) that charge no more than high street prices, but less so overseas, where air-side prices seem often to be unreasonably inflated. No one said airline food was ever going to cheap, but against that, your onboard catering requirements don’t need to end up costing as much as your flight, or more.
The April edition of Inside Traveller is being mailed to subscribers today and will be available on-line from Friday 29th March.
Amongst the subjects covered this month are:
• British Airways’ plans for its new A380s – test flights start this summer. • Why it’s useful to appreciate the differences between the major Gulf carriers. • “The more rooms a hotel has the worse the service will be” – true or false? • www.dealangel.com – a really useful hotel comparison website. • What to look for in longhaul economy, AND • What to look for in premium economy. • Another way to judge airline safety. • Collecting Avios demystified.