Sri Lanka: Irish tourists not covered for cancelled trips

Policies only cover cancellations if Department of Foreign Affairs advises against travel

 St Sebastian Church in Negombo after multiple explosions targeted churches and hotels across Sri Lanka. Photograph: Stringer/Getty

St Sebastian Church in Negombo after multiple explosions targeted churches and hotels across Sri Lanka. Photograph: Stringer/Getty

 

Irish tourists who cancel upcoming holidays to Sri Lanka in the wake of Easter weekend’s terrorist attacks will not be able to claim anything under their travel insurance policies unless the advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs changes significantly.

The travel advisory issued by the Department was updated in the wake of the multiple bomb attacks at churches and hotels on Easter Sunday, which left more than 300 people dead and hundreds injured, and now includes details of the nationwide curfew imposed on Monday.

While a "high degree of caution" is now advised, there is no suggestion trips should be cancelled.

Typically, travel insurance policies only cover cancellations if there is specific advice issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs warning against non-essential travel, and such blanket travel bans for tourists are rare.

“We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution,” the advisory begins. “Please follow the instructions and advice of local authorities and stay indoors where possible.

“Travellers should be aware that travel restrictions and curfews are in place across the island causing disruptions to travel plans. If you are affected, you should contact your tour operator or travel accommodation providers.”

Lonely Planet named Sri Lanka as the number one country in the world to visit in 2019 due to better transport links, a rise in the number of hotels, and the wildlife experiences. Photograph: iStock
Lonely Planet named Sri Lanka as the number one country in the world to visit in 2019 due to better transport links, a rise in the number of hotels, and the wildlife experiences. Photograph: iStock

The 8pm to 4am curfew was imposed on Monday, and anyone travelling to or from airports their during those hours will have to have their travel documentation readily available.

There is no Irish Embassy or consulate in Sri Lanka, and the Department of Foreign Affairs is “limited in the help we can offer you in an emergency. However, if you need assistance, you can contact the Honorary Consul in Colombo”.

Irish citizens can also make contact with other EU embassies if they need urgent assistance.

The levels of advisory offered by the Department range from safe, to high caution, to essential travel only, to the most extreme warning which advises against all travel to a particular location.

In 2015, two separate attacks in popular resort towns in in Tunisia left dozens of tourists dead and devastated that country’s economy. The official advice from the Irish authorities warned against all non-essential travel to that country in light of increased security concerns. The ban has subsequently been relaxed for some areas of the country.

In the same year, would-be travellers to Egypt were warned against travelling there in the wake of terrorist incidents. The Department stopped short of imposing a blanket ban on leisure travel to Egypt, but Irish citizens were “advised to avoid non-essential travel... due to a heightened threat of terrorist incidents, including targeted attacks against foreigners.”

As with Tunisia, the travel advisories for many parts of Egypt have been relaxed, although tourists are still advised to exercise a high degree of caution while there.

The Easter attacks in Sri Lanka come just as the country was hoping to benefit from a dramatic upsurge in interest in travel there.

Earlier this year, Lonely Planet named Sri Lanka the number one country in the world to visit in 2019 due to better transport links, a rise in the number of hotels, and the wildlife experiences.

Another key factor bringing tourists to the country has been prices. While inflation has seen the cost of holidays to Sri Lanka climb significantly in recent years, it is still considered a very cheap destination.

Sunway Travel offers holidays packages to the country and its managing director Tanya Airey told The Irish Times is has become increasingly popular with Irish people “looking for something that little bit different”.

She said Sunway, like all tour operators, could only go on the advice issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs. “It really does depend on what the DFA says. The sad reality is this kind of thing can happen almost everywhere - we have seen terrorist attacks in the UK and in France, Spain and Germany as well as further afield.”

A spokeswoman for TD Active, an offshoot of the Travel Department, said that while the tour operator was following the Department's guidelines, it also understood that people booked to travel there may be nervous in the wake of the attacks. TD Active has a tour travelling to Sri Lanka later this year, and the company will allow travellers booked on this tour to transfer their booking to another destination offered by them.