Last updated: 07:14 PM ET, Sat July 11 2015

UK's Foreign Office Says Another Tunisia Attack 'Highly Likely,' Tourists Evacuate

Impacting Travel | Michael Isenbek | July 11, 2015

UK's Foreign Office Says Another Tunisia Attack 'Highly Likely,' Tourists Evacuate

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Around 3,000 British citizens on package tours and 300 independent travelers that were vacationing in Tunisia are flying home early this weekend after the United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) declared another terrorist attack “highly likely,” in its official travel advice for the country, the Telegraph reported.

Tour operators are quickly corralling their customers in light of the advice change. A Thomas Cook spokesman told the Telegraph it was "strongly advising" customers in Tunisia to return home over the weekend, and dispatched specialist assistance teams to Tunisian resorts to offer additional support. Monarch Airlines aims to get all resort customers, "back to the UK as soon as possible." Tour operators Thomson and First Choice have no remaining vacationers in Tunisia, and have canceled all flights there for the rest of the summer season.

The Telegraph indicated that Downing Street revised the Tunisia travel advice based on intelligence information acquired just in the past day regarding threats to Britons in Tunisia. Those possibly linked with the Sousse attack are still at large, and a security assessment made by experts came to the conclusion that the advice needed to be changed.

According to the Telegraph, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond stands by his decision, and there are Britons angry that warnings against visiting the country were not put in place immediately after the June 26 attack that killed 38 British vacationers in the Tunisian resort town of Sousse.

Tunisia's Prime Minister Habib Essid told Sky News via the Telegraph: "We regret the decision was taken to ask all the citizens to leave the country. We could have done something else that could help both sides, but we understand.

"Tunisia needs to be supported. It needs to be helped against what the terrorists are doing.

"The objective of the terrorist is that people from abroad won't feel safe in Tunisia."

The Telegraph reported in a recent parliamentary debate Essid said his government did everything in its power to protect British citizens and their interests, adding that 7,000 “security operations” were carried out since the Bardo Museum attack in March, and the government was working to remedy "shortcomings."

Nabil Ammar, Tunisia’s ambassador to the U.K., said to the Telegraph "This is what the terrorists want. By damaging the tourism, by having foreigners leaving the country, they damage the whole sector and put so many people out of work and on the streets.”

According to the Telegraph, Hammond commented that the British government took care to not act in a "knee-jerk manner" by urging an immediate Tunisia evacuation after the Sousse attack. He said the UK and Tunisia would work on improving security, and hopes to downgrade the travel advice "in the not too distant future."

Downing Street said that "substantial" work was needed to improve tourist security, and it would probably be "some time" before the advice against travel could be lifted.

And then there are those vacations that were cut short, even though the tourists felt safe. 

Heidi Barlow, 34, told the Telegraph she was reassured by the armed guards present at hotel entrances and beaches, adding: "People feel safe. They certainly didn't expect to have to leave."

Tracey Caburn of Pontefract, returning with her mother and sister to Manchester Airport, was critical of the government’s handling of the situation. She told the Telegraph: "It's a disgrace. We felt safe. We would've stayed there. We didn't feel threatened at all. There were guards on the roof, the gates, the beach. We wanted to stay.

"If they were going to bring us home so quickly they should not have let us fly out in the first place."

Les Aston, 61, from Shrewsbury, saw the personal ramifications of tourists departing en masse. "They let us go out there and now we've been brought back home. It makes no sense,” he said to the Telegraph. “The staff were in tears when we left the hotel. Tourism in Tunisia will be ruined."

Foreign tourism accounts for around 15 percent of the Tunisian GDP, and this situation has ripple effects for British and broader European tourism, as examined by TravelPulse’s David Cogswell. Tunisian ports of call for cruise ships are also affected, as seen by MSC Cruises canceling winter 2015-16 calls to the country, reported by TravelPulse’s Theresa Masek.

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