Thomas Cook resumes flights to Tunisia

Tour operator Thomas Cook is resuming flights to Tunisia for UK customers for the first time since the 2015 beach attack in which 30 Britons were killed.

Three full planes, each carrying 220 passengers, are flying to Enfidha this week after the Foreign and Commonwealth Office eased its travel advice.

The FCO had advised against all but essential visits following the attack.

Security has been increased at hotels and resorts in the country, which attracted 440,000 UK visitors in 2014.

Thomas Cook has continued to fly German, French and Belgian holidaymakers to Tunisia, because their governments did not issue similar advice.

The company has been receiving feedback from these tourists and chief executive Peter Fankhauser told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme they said the security guards were “very friendly and nice to them”.

He added: “They don’t feel they are in a military zone and feel they can enjoy their holidays.”

Mr Fankhauser said his company was doing its best to make UK tourists feel at ease in Tunisia.

“It would be foolish of me to say that any destination is 100% safe, but what I can say is that we have taken time to make the decision to prepare our programme.

“It’s a modest programme and we offer 10 hotels which are really up to our standards.

“We are confident we have done everything we can do as a tour operator to make the holiday experience as nice as possible for our customers.

“People who were boarding our first flight said they were excited to go back.”

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A Thomas Cook spokesman told the BBC they had not needed to discount prices to attract people to visit Tunisia.

“We’ve always had good demand for these holidays and Tunisia has always been a good value destination,” he said.

He added that the company had so far taken 15,000 UK bookings up to the end of the summer.

An Easter holiday for a family of four to a Thomas Cook own brand hotel in Tunisia would cost about £2,000, roughly £250 per person cheaper than a similar holiday in Gran Canaria in Spain.

Flights from Birmingham and Manchester were leaving on Tuesday, with another going out from Gatwick on Wednesday.

The company will continue to fly out three planes each week until April, when a flight from Glasgow will be added.

By May, there will be six flights each week, with Stansted and Newcastle added to the list of departure points.

Britain’s ambassador to Tunis, Louise de Sousa, said when asked if Tunisia is safe enough now for British tourists to return: “No country can be 100% safe [from terrorism].

“But we are satisfied that Tunisia has made substantial progress and I would encourage Britons to come and visit. This country has so much to offer.”

However, Alan Bowen, an adviser for the African Travel and Tourism Association, told the BBC he wouldn’t visit the country.

“It’s a very brave move starting these flights,” he said. “Tunisia has improved security, but the country borders Libya, which is in a state of chaos.

“I wouldn’t go because I don’t think it’s safe.”

‘Safer there than at home’

BBC News website readers who contacted us on the whole had no qualms about visiting the country, with several saying they have “never felt unsafe” there.

Samantha Leakey was in Sousse when the 2015 attack happened. She told the BBC: “I went back a month later and have been going there every six to eight weeks ever since. I feel safer walking alone in the streets of Sousse than I do in my home town in the UK.”

Sabrine Herridge said: “I have visited Tunisia each year since the attacks. I have already booked my ticket for this summer and will be spending three-and-a-half weeks visiting different areas.

They rely on our tourism, and hopefully these new packages will encourage people to give the country a second chance.”

Charlotte James said: “My husband and I have booked our summer holiday to Tunisia in June.

I don’t think any country is truly safe from terrorism. In Britain alone we’ve had many terrorist attacks, yet people continue to come here for their holidays.

If you spend your life living in fear, you’ll never go on holiday anywhere.”

Marc Scott admitted that he and his partner were “a bit apprehensive” before booking a holiday in Tunisia, but said: “We then realised if we lived our lives with fear of what other people may do, then that isn’t living at all.

Terrorism can strike at any moment anywhere, so now I am not worried in the slightest, I’m just excited.”