Thomas Cook Cancels All Sharm El Sheikh Flights through October
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After the Metrojet bombing on Egypt's Sinai Peninsula late last year, a number of airlines stopped service to the Egyptian tourist destination of Sharm el Sheikh. Russia banned flights indefinitely and Great Britain suspended flights until May of this year. No British planes have landed at the airport that serves the once-popular Red Sea resort town since Nov. 4 of last year.
The ban on UK flights was set to be removed on May 25. Egypt has been working with security experts to upgrade its airport security in anticipation of seeing flights resume. However, these efforts are apparently not enough for at least one tour operator.
Thomas Cook Extends Egypt Travel Ban on Its Own
Thomas Cook has announced that it will be suspending bookings to the Red Sea holiday destination until at least Oct. 31. It is doing this on its own since the UK's official ban is still set to expire in May, though it too could be extended.
In fact, an extension on the British ban seems like a distinct possibility. Thomas Cook said that it has confirmed that there has not yet been any change to the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office's advisories about the area. Because of this, the tour company went ahead and extended the ban on its own, even though it was technically not yet required to do so.
Cook had been accepting bookings for Egyptian Red Sea vacations for travel dates after May 25. People who have already made reservations will be able to either cancel or change to a different destination. Those making changes will get a 30 euro discount regardless of whether or not their alternative destinations is cheaper than their canceled Egyptian vacation.
Rival tour operator TUI is still operating under the assumption that flights will resume after May 25. The Cook rival has yet to give any indication about extending the ban on its own.
What can Thomas Cook gain by making this preemptive extension?
European tour operators have found that travelers were interested in alternative destinations after last year's terror attacks in Egypt and also in Tunisia. Rather than staying home, people simply opted to go to other, safer destinations like the Canary Islands or Cyprus. This trend may have Thomas Cook and its peers thinking that the best course of action is to cut their loses in Egypt and focus on other destinations until it is absolutely certain that there will be no more extensions on the travel bans.
Bad news for Egypt, good news for its alternatives
The Cook move is obviously terrible news for Egypt's tourism industry, which, after several years of political upheaval and violence, was already struggling even before the Metrojet bombing. On the other hand, alternative destinations like Cyprus and the Canaries have been experiencing a tourism boom. These destinations and others will be benefiting from extra traffic during the coming summer high season.
The worry from Egypt's standpoint is that both vacationers and tour companies will simply stop thinking of it as an option. Thomas Cook, for one, was quick to move on from what was once one of the most popular destinations for European package tourists. The tour company seems focused on developing other destinations and writing off Egypt for the year, or perhaps for longer.
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