Operators are implementing contingency plans to fly thousands of British holidaymakers home from The Gambia after a state of emergency was declared.
The change in Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice last night was due to a “deteriorating political situation and potential military intervention” following presidential elections on December 1.
Thomas Cook is deploying additional flights over the next 48 hours to bring 985 customers home from the West African country after the FCO warned against all but essential travel.
A further 2,500 British tourists on flight-only deals with the operator to the winter sun destination are being contacted and offered the “earliest possible” flight back to the UK.
Specialist operator The Gambia Experience is to run repatriation flights today into Gatwick and a second on Friday. Further flights to Birmingham and Manchester are being organised.
Outbound trips up to January 31 have been cancelled with refunds offered.
Travellers booked with the operator to the Gambia between February 1-15 can amend their travel dates or switch to an alternative destination provided by parent company Serenity Holidays.
“Whilst the current situation in The Gambia remains calm we will be working with the FCO and airline partners to offer pre-emptive repatriation flights back to the UK,” the company said.
Thomas Cook said: “We are dispatching a special assistance team with our first flight from the UK to provide additional support at Banjul airport for our customers.
“Our colleagues on the ground in Gambia will proactively contact all customers on holiday with us as soon as possible to prepare for return to the UK.”
The operator is offering free amendments or cancellations for holidays booked to The Gambia until Friday and free amendments for those due to travel after that date.
Abta said: “In light of the current political situation in The Gambia, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has changed its level of advice to The Gambia and now advises against all but essential travel to The Gambia.
“Abta estimates there are around 2,000 people currently on holiday with its Members in The Gambia; additionally there will be people who have travelled there independently either for a holiday or to visit friends and family.
“Package holidaymakers in The Gambia are advised to contact their tour operator to confirm arrangements for returning home. Those who have travelled independently will need to contact their airline to discuss their options.
“Tour operators will not send out any further package holidaymakers to the Gambia while the FCO advice remains in place.
“Independent travellers should be aware that travelling to The Gambia at this time will invalidate their UK travel insurance policies. Insurance policies will still provide cover for travellers already in a country at the time of a Foreign Office advice change.
“Package holidaymakers due to travel imminently to The Gambia are advised to contact their tour operator to discuss the options of changing their date of travel, receiving a full refund or booking an alternative holiday. Independent travellers should talk to their airlines and accommodation providers, although there is no obligation on either to offer the same options as a tour operator.
“The political situation remains fluid and the FCO travel advice will reflect this. Travel companies will continue to monitor the situation and allow cancellations and rebooking for travel dates while the advice against all but essential travel remains in place.
“Although modest in total numbers, in recent years The Gambia has become an increasingly popular winter sun destination.”
Gambia Tourism Board director general Adboulie Hydara said: “We are monitoring the political situation and are working closely with our UK tour operator partners to support them in returning customers to the UK.
“All holidaymakers with independent flight bookings are advised to contact their flight provider to discuss travel options.
“For those with future bookings to the Gambia we advise that they speak to their holiday provider to change their date of travel.
“We will continue to monitor the situation carefully and share updated advice accordingly.
“As a popular winter sun destination among British holidaymakers, the safety of our visitors is of the upmost importance and we look forward to continuing to welcome them once the situation has been fully resolved.”
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