Easter terror blasts: Travel agents’ advice for Kiwis with upcoming travel plans to Sri Lanka

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Kiwis with upcoming trips or travel plans to Sri Lanka should get in touch with their travel agent and register with Safe Travel to be alerted to any further risk.

Eight blasts ripped through landmarks in and around Sri Lanka’s capital of Colombo yesterday, targeting Christians, hotel guests and foreign tourists.

More than 450 people were wounded and at least 27 foreigners – including five British citizens – are among the dead. There are 214 Kiwis registered as being in Sri Lanka but so far no fatalities have been reported.

The explosions occurred at five-star Shangri-La, Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury hotels. Other occurred at Catholic churches during the Easter service. A bomb was found and safely destroyed at the main airport just hours after co-ordinated attacks killed 207 people.

House of Travel commercial director Brent Thomas said New Zealanders with upcoming travel plans to Sri Lanka should get in touch with their travel agent and airline.

Thomas said House of Travel would be working through whether a traveller should cancel or postpone their trip on a case-by-case basis.

“Each customer will have a different view on that because the aversion to risk can be different between people, and I suspect we’ll have more people coming into the stores over the next few days following this,” he said.

“At this stage it’s a little bit early to see significant changes in people’s bookings.”‘

Like with other terrorist attacks, the travel agency expected bookings to Sri Lanka and that part of the world to dry up over coming weeks but bounce back shortly after, Thomas said.

In these circumstances, if no further incidents happen, booking patterns often return to normal within six weeks, the company has noted over the last two decades.

“We’ve seen that with 9/11, we saw it with the London situation and we’ve seen it in more recent incidents as well. New Zealand travellers are pretty resilient in terms of that sort of thing but it very much depends on whether they are any further events.”

Figures show 10,300 Kiwis visited Sri Lanka last year, up from around 8000 recorded a year earlier, according to Stats NZ.

Sri Lanka had experienced civil unrest in the past but had been coming out of that, Thomas said, and was becoming one of the fastest-growing destinations from a low base among Kiwis, on the bucket list of many New Zealanders.

“New Zealanders do like to travel to different destinations and Sri Lanka was one that was growing in popularity,” Thomas said. “This [attack] may impact that but we’ll have to wait and see. Unfortunately in the world today we do have these events that occur and they’ve been happening now for the best part of 20 years.”

Travel insurance will not cover additional costs for travellers to cancel or reschedule a trip to Sri Lanka under such circumstances so long as airlines and hotels are still operating, however, suppliers may be flexible to changes of dates, Thomas said.

“Often when you have these kinds of incidents there is ability to work with airlines and hoteliers to see if there’s some sort of [leeway] to move customer around.

“If people have booked on their own online well then good luck they are going to have to work through each one of those supply lines themselves.”

Graphic / NZ Herald
Graphic / NZ Herald

House of Travel will re-evaluate whether it continues to offers packages to Sri Lanka over the next 48 hours.

A Flight Centre customer service representative told the Herald the travel agency was still selling tickets and hotel packages to Sri Lanka.

She said when incidents like this occur staff receive an email from head office advising what they should tell consumers to go to those zones, she said, but such an email had not yet been sent out.

“We haven’t received anything so maybe it’s not as risky now.”

Helloworld Travel executive general manager Simon McKearney said Helloworld was contacting its customers in Sri Lanka offering assistance, and advising travellers to get in touch with their local agents.

“The New Zealand Government advisory remains unchanged at this stage and as a consequence travel insurance conditions have not changed,” the company said.

Airlines generally offered some flexibility on the rules and waiver fees but no specific guidance had been received as of yet, McKearney said.

According to the Safe Travel website, the Government is advising Kiwis to exercise normal safety and security precautions in Sri Lanka such as avoid protests, demonstrations and political rallies.

Colombo Airport remains open and advises travellers to arrive four hours before check-in.

New Zealanders in Sri Lanka requiring consular assistance should contact the New Zealand High Commission in New Delhi.



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