by Hugh Morris, The Telegraph, August 23, 2017
Thomas Cook is to resume holidays to Tunisia in February for the first time since a terrorist attack on the popular resort of Sousse left 38 dead, including 30 Britons.
Earlier this month the Foreign Office lifted its travel restrictions to the African country, a little over two years since the attack took place in June 2015. At the time Thomas Cook said it would consider returning “towards the spring”, but has now announced that flights and holidays from February 13 are already on sale.
The operator said it was starting in “just a few resorts, mainly near to Hammamet, and only eight hotels”, adding it had maintained a presence in the country so that it could serve its German, Belgian and French customers, whose governments did not recommend against travel to Tunisia. Hammamet is just north of Sousse.
Carol MacKenzie, Thomas Cook’s head of customer welfare, said that she had visited Tunisia and noticed the increased security presence on tourist beaches and an improved relationship between police and local hotels.
“We always follow UK government advice on where we can offer flights and holidays, because they are the experts in security,” she said. “We also listen to our customers in where they want to go on holiday.
“Since it closed for British holidaymakers two years ago, we’ve had lots of customers asking us when Tunisia will be back on sale.
“Its soft, long beaches with year-round sun, historic ruins and enchanting desert villages make Tunisia a destination that attracts lots of loyal visitors.”
The Foreign Office says that a state of emergency remains in place across the country, imposed after a suicide attack on a police bus in November in 2015 and extended a number of times since. It also warns against travel to the south and west of the country, where it borders with Libya and Algeria respectively, and says “terrorists are still very likely to try to carry out attacks in Tunisia”.
“Security forces remain on a high state of alert in Tunis and other places. You should be vigilant at all times, including around religious sites and festivals,” the FCO says.
Thomson, another holiday operator to suspend its programme during the ban, said that it is looking at whether it will “re-introduce the destination for future seasons”.
Tunisia’s tourism industry took a massive blow during the FCO restrictions, losing some 90 per cent of its British visitors.
Direct flights to Tunis from London continued under the ban, but there were no services between the UK and Monastir or Enfidha. Those who chose to ignore the FCO’s advice might have found peace and quiet at tourist resorts, but would have faced problems securing travel insurance.