The Middle East: to go or not to go?


Travel can now continue as normal. Security has improved significantly.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO, The travel ban has been lifted, but a few warnings are still in place. Avoid public gatherings and disturbances (particularly on Fridays, when most take place). Adhere to the midnight-6am curfew currently in place nationwide except for the Red Sea resorts and Luxor.

Tourist board: It is business as usual, with hotels and resorts operating normally. All cultural sites are open. There are no areas in Cairo that should be avoided (

Tour operators: Lots of deals available to encourage tourists to return to what was already a low-price destination. Nile cruises and Red Sea resorts such as Sharm el-Sheikh will be popular. A week departing Gatwick on 17 March staying at the Tropicana Tivoli hotel, B&B, costs ?259pp, including return flights with Monarch (0871 423 8642, Explore (0845 013 1537, has discounted all its Egypt trips by ?100, if booked by 10 March. Bales Worldwide (0845 057 1819, has a discount of ?1,300pp on a luxury Nile cruise in March and April, with seven nights' full board including return flights to Luxor, sightseeing and transfers costing ?1,795pp if booked by 17 March.

On the street

Cairo: Mandy Nickerson, MD of Bales Worldwide, who has visited Egypt nearly 100 times, was there last week and said: "It is so exciting at the moment. Everyone is proud to be Egyptian. There is tight security and I saw tanks in Cairo, but didn't find it daunting. Tourists will receive a very warm welcome – people will be grateful you are there."

Alison Harding, product manager for Explore, said: "I visited the Valley of the Kings on Wednesday and saw just 20 people at an attraction that normally welcomes more than 8,000 a day. Even more surreal was my visit to Tutankhamun's tomb. No one else was there. I had my very own private encounter with this famous mummy!"

Dahab: Claire Nassar, who runs a tourist lodge and is a blogger (at, said: "Dahab has remained entirely peaceful and unaffected by the violence in the rest of the country; the only enduring effect is the lack of tourists. The continued restriction of flights from several European countries has meant that a lot of bookings (for accommodation, diving courses and so on) were cancelled. Several businesses have had to close, at least temporarily, as their overheads are crippling them. But bookings are steadily coming in for April onwards, and we are all optimistic it will pick up for Easter. There really is no reason for tourists to stay away."

The long view: By the end of 2010 Egypt had received 14.7 million visitors from all over the world, of which 1.45 million came from the UK. This was a rise from 1.3 million in 2009, and just 378,355 in 2000 (post 9/11). Numbers are still expected to keep rising, said the tourist board. But Explore's Harding admitted: "Unfortunately for the country's tourism, the aftershock of the 18-day revolution will be felt for some time yet, with many people discouraged from holidaying in the country."

Travel has resumed and is unaffected, though visitors should closely monitor the situation. Djerba airport is being used to repatriate British and Egyptian nationals from Libya, but there is no reason not to travel in the area, the tourist board said on Thursday.

FCO: The warning against non-essential travel has been lifted, but a state of emergency remains in place, and the political situation is undergoing rapid and dramatic change. Stay away from public gatherings. Street protests continue and more rallies and protests are expected (particularly in central Tunis), though most pass peacefully.

Tourist board: "Tourism is an important industry, and at no point during the revolution has there been any antagonism towards tourists," said Anissa Ramoundi, the UK director for the Tunisian National Tourist Office ( "For the majority of Tunisians the revolution has been very positive. Summer 2011 will be an interesting time for tourists to visit, to learn about Tunisia's historic 'Jasmine Revolution' and speak to Tunisians first-hand about their hopes for their country."

Tour operators: Tour operators are restarting programmes. Thomas Cook returned on Wednesday last week (, and TUI will resume on 13 March ( Many are offering deals to encourage tourists to return.

Explore's next departure is scheduled for 15 March, and is running a ?300 discount. The 12-day tour of Carthage and the desert oases now costs ?599pp including flights, B&B, transport, guiding and some meals.

Chris Wrede, director of adventure operator Oasis Overland (01963 363400,, said: "In our opinion Tunisia is now safe to travel to and our group currently in Tunisia have been treated fantastically well by local people and the authorities. Our tour leaders will generally avoid city centres on Fridays as this is usually a day of popular protest."

On the street: Melanie Benna, a British ex-pat who runs an estate agency ( in Monastir and blogs about expat life at, said: "The atmosphere is one of uncertainty, but unless you go to a march or sit-in, it is life as normal. Tourists will have absolutely no problem whatsoever – they are being welcomed back. People took flowers to the airport to welcome back the first groups."

The long view: Tourism has increased considerably over the decade. Last year there was an unprecedented rise in tourists from the UK, totalling 353,282 – up 28% on 2009 – and the highest figure yet. There were 299,376 in 2000.

The tourist board said resort areas such as Hammamet and Monastir would bounce back quickly.

"With free elections in sight and a more open and liberal government in the making, Tunisians are optimistic about the future," said Ramoundi of the tourist board. "The UK market is incredibly important for Tunisia and I hope that British visitors will support us as we get back on our feet."

Explore's managing director, Ashley Toft, said: "The prompt reintroduction of tourism is one of the best ways to support a country that has experienced difficulties. Past experience tells us that customers will be keen to return quickly – we are already seeing significant demand for our Tunisia trips. We don't expect the recent disruption to have too much impact on the medium- to long-term appeal of this country among our customers."


No one should travel to Libya at present. Foreigners are still being evacuated, and the country is in a state of crisis.

FCO: Advises against all but essential travel.

Tour operators: Travellers who have booked a package are entitled to rebook alternative destinations or dates or, if they are not available, a refund, said Frances Tuke, public relations manager for the Association of British Travel Agents (

"Customers whose travel arrangements [eg flights] aren't part of a package should refer to the terms and conditions of the services they have bought to determine what their rights are," she said.

Chris Wrede, of Oasis Overland, which last week diverted its Libya tour to Tunisia, said: "We plan to return to Libya when it is safe to do so, and all future trips are scheduled to go ahead, with the next departure on 8 June. Decisions regarding future trips will be made closer to departure."

The long view: "Until just a few years ago organised tourism in Libya attracted very few adventure travellers," said Gail Simmons, a travel journalist who specialises in the region. "Western sanctions, and the country's oil reserves, meant it didn't need tourist revenues. Sanctions were lifted in 2004, and British Airways started operating daily flights to Tripoli in 2005. Visitors began to return, drawn to world-class sites such as the Roman city of Leptis Magna, and desert adventures in the Sahara."

Arkno (020-8312 2358,, one of the four major tour companies operating in Libya, estimates it alone took around 3,000 tourists in 2010.

Toft of Explore said: "Libya has grown in popularity for us over the past six years, especially since the relaxation of the visa requirements a couple of years ago which meant instead of having to travel as part of an organised tour group, visitors just had to be invited and guaranteed by someone in the country – easy to arrange through a tour operator. It became a legitimate long-weekend destination and we arranged trips for independent travellers."

BMI went ahead with the launch of a route to Tripoli from London on 21 February, just as the uprisings took hold, then cancelled flights up to and including 11 March, but is monitoring the situation, and will resume when possible.

FCO: No warnings against travel. Protests have taken place in many parts of Jordan this year, mainly on Fridays. These have been largely peaceful.

Tourist board: The demonstrations in Jordan have been very peaceful and in no way compare with protests in other areas in the region. Jordan remains a safe destination for tourists.

Tour operators: "With my traveller hat on, now may be the perfect time to visit the Middle East," said Jonny Bealby of adventure operator Wild Frontiers ( "With all the negative press about the region, tourist numbers are down, but there won't necessarily be revolution in Morocco, Jordan or Syria, and the main sites such as Petra will be deserted."

An eight-day trip to Jordan's main sites including flights and accommodation departing 21 April has ?125 off with Bales Worldwide (details as before), now costing ?1,370pp.

On the street: "Tourist numbers are down in Jordan, but everyday life goes on," said Huw Williams, a travel writer based in Amman. "Engage people in a conversation in the cafe or at the falafel stall, and opinion is the same, 'Yes there is a desire for constitutional reform, but no, we do not want to overthrow the king. Jordan is different; violent unrest is not how we do things.' Time will tell."

The long view: There was a 20% increase in visitors in 2010, compared with 2009. February is expected to show a small fall in numbers as a result of the cancellation of two-centre trips combining Jordan and Egypt. EasyJet ( plans to launch what will be the only no-frills flight to Amman from London on 27 March.

Updated 24 March
Troops opened fire on civilians, killing more than 100 people according to human rights groups, in a mosque in the southern city of Deraa on 23 March after protests there since 18 March. The FCO advises against all travel to Der'aa.

Further updates to follow.

Updated 17 March
As of 17 March, the FCO is advising against all travel to Bahrain and also recommending that those without a pressing reason to remain should leave.

Updated 17 March
The FCO is advising against all travel to Yemen due to increasing tension and violence. It is also telling British Nationals to leave the country as soon as possible by commercial means, and warns that the British embassy's ability to assist "in any evacuation will be extremely limited".
Other countries

Updated 17 March
Travel to Lebanon and the UAE has not been affected. The FCO has amended its travel advice on Morocco and Oman, warning of small scale protests taking place in cities advising avoidance of of large gatherings and demonstrations. The situation across the region is changing rapidly and tourists should always check the FCO website before travelling.

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