The Foreign Office (FCO) has advised against all but essential travel to Sri Lanka due to the “evolving security situation in the country” following the Easter Sunday terror attacks which left more than 250 people dead.
Eight Britons were among the victims confirmed dead in blasts at churches and hotels which left a further 500 wounded.
The Foreign Office says terrorists are very likely to try to carry out indiscriminate attacks there, including in places visited by foreigners.
On Friday, the Sri Lankan government revised down the death toll from 350 to around 250, blaming a calculation error.
The UK government is talking to the travel industry about helping the 8,000 British tourists believed to be in Sri Lanka if they decide they want to cut short their visits.
Operators with programmes in Sri Lanka said they have cancelled bookings and started re-booking customers to alternative destinations.
Tui said it has started to contact customers in Sri Lanka and those due to travel in the next seven days to discuss travel arrangements.
G Adventures has cancelled all departures up to and including April 30 as a result of the government warning.
In a statement, the adventure specialist said: “Travellers with travel to Sri Lanka booked beyond April 30, 2019 who wish to postpone their tour to a later date or destination may do so with no change fees.” Customers have the option to transfer to an alternative tour, or to cancel their tour and receive a full refund.
Staff at Travel 2 and Gold Medal, which between them had more than 200 forward bookings to the destination, have been contacting suppliers to help coordinate alternative travel arrangements, refunds and cancellations and are offering support to passengers in Sri Lanka and agents with customers due to travel.
In a statement, the sister brands said: “We are committed to supporting our partners on the ground in Sri Lanka. As soon as it is safe for guests to return, we will work with our agent partners to ensure they have full confidence and the tools and resources to sell this incredible country.”
A spokeswoman from Kuoni said: “Our local staff will be making contact with those currently in resort to discuss options to return to the UK and we will be making contact with all customers due to travel to Sri Lanka within the next four weeks to discuss options to amend their travel plans.”
Wendy Wu Tours said its passengers have been given the option to curtail their holiday and return to the UK but all customers have decided to stay.
It has cancelled all upcoming departures up to June 30. Customers can transfer to a later date or another destination, or cancel.
London-based independent operator and agency Travel Gallery, run by a family from Sri Lanka, was inundated with calls on Thursday evening as the news broke.
Business development manager Oli Dobbs said: “People are cancelling their holidays. We are trying to let people know on a basis of when they are travelling.”
He said that the agency was prioritising getting in touch with customers due to fly out in the coming weeks and later contact those travelling further in the future.
If Only has more than 50 forward bookings to Sri Lanka and has now decided to cancel bookings for departure before the end of July following the FCO’s change of advice.
Chief executive Andy Freeth said: “First and foremost it’s a terrible tragedy for the country, and those affected on April 21. And now, the wider impact it will have on the economy is terrible for the country as well.
“The FCO’s role is to give advice and keep customers safe, so we will take that advice on board. We are in the process of contacting our travel agent partners with customers travelling between now and the end of July – and we will monitor the situation. We’ve already had a number of enquiries.
“The underlying thing for us is that this is a terrible atrocity – and we will support our travel agent partners through it.”
Freeth said If Only would allow transfers to other destinations, and the transfer of deposits – and that the operator would be speaking to airlines about their policies on refunds and amendments.
ITC has 17 forward bookings, one in resort, and one travelling this weekend, which has cancelled.
The luxury operator is offering its customer in resort who is on a twin-centre holiday, to fly to the Maldives earlier than planned, remain in Sri Lanka and check their insurance policy or Fly back to the UK.
Director of agency sales Lee Marshall said its team is contacting all forward bookings tomorrow to see if they want to change to another destination, leave their holidays as is and wait to see if the ban is lifted, or cancel free of charge.
Announcing the change in advice, foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “Following the horrific attacks on Easter Sunday, and the ongoing Sri Lankan security operation, I have received updated advice from the Foreign Office and decided to update the travel advice to British nationals to Sri Lanka to advise against all but essential travel.”
He added: “We will keep this decision under close and constant review. My first priority will always be the security of British citizens living and travelling abroad.
“We all hope the situation will return to normal very soon, and that the Sri Lankan tourism industry is able to get back on its feet following the terrorist attacks. We will do all we can to help the Sri Lankan authorities.”
The Foreign Office said those already in Sri Lanka should: “remain vigilant, keep up to date with development, keep a low profile and avoid crowded public places, large gatherings and demonstrations. Avoid travelling during periods of curfew and keep in touch with family and friends.”
It added: “If you’re in Sri Lanka and you are already due to leave or now wish to do so, keep in regular contact with your airline, tour operator and travel insurance company to ensure you are aware of arrangements that may be in place for customers.
“You should ensure you have confirmed, pre-arranged travel plans in place before leaving your accommodation for the airport.”
An Abta spokesperson said: “The Foreign Office has changed its travel advice to Sri Lanka and now advises against all but essential travel. Customers who are due to travel imminently to the island on package holidays will be offered options of deferring their date of travel, transferring to another destination or a full refund. Customers who have booked independently will need to discuss their options with their airline and accommodation provider.”
The announcement follows Aito members announcing earlier today that they will continue to support tourism to Sri Lanka. There was also widespread support from other UK tour operators with programmes in the country following the attacks.
On Wednesday the Sri Lankan tourist board put out a statement saying that it was ‘open for business’.
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