Many readers have contacted The independent express concern about upcoming travel in the region. The assassination in Baghdad by the United States of the Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani follows. The murder raised tensions across the Middle East and Iran promised to take revenge. Many travelers can feel apprehensive.
British and U.S. authorities are advising their citizens in major tourist destinations in the United Arab Emirates and Oman to be vigilant. But for the travel industry, things seem to be going as usual – with normal policies that apply for changes and cancellations.
These are the key questions and answers.
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How many British travelers are on vacation in the region?
According to Foreign Office figures, combined with flight models, it estimates that around 30,000 UK tourists are on vacation in the United Arab Emirates; another 3,500 in Oman and 2,500 in Qatar, with a smaller number in Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Iran.
In total, perhaps 40,000 UK vacationers are in the Gulf countries, along with a few thousand short-term business visitors.
In addition, there are many tens of thousands of British citizens living and working in the region. For example, the Foreign Office claims that over 100,000 British expatriates live in the United Arab Emirates, with another 20,000 in Qatar.
Many other British travelers change planes in the Gulf hubs, in particular Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha.
What does the United Kingdom government recommend after the US attack?
At the end of Saturday January 4, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs updated its travel tips for all countries in the region with the same paragraph: “After the death of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a United States strike on January 3 in Baghdad, British citizens in the region should remain vigilant and keep up to date with the latest developments, including through the media and this travel tip. “
The only countries bordering the Gulf that are on the Foreign Office’s “no-go” list are Iran and Iraq (plus, on the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen).
But there are longstanding concerns about terrorism in the United Arab Emirates. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has long stated that an attack is likely and warns that possible targets include “oil, transportation and aviation interests, as well as crowded places, including restaurants, hotels, beaches, shopping malls and mosques”.
At its closest point, Dubai is located about 100 miles from the coast of Iran across the Gulf.
A statement from the American Embassy in the United Arab Emirates states: “US citizens are strongly encouraged to maintain a high level of vigilance and practice good awareness of the situation.”
For Qatar and Oman, the FCO states: “Terrorist attacks cannot be ruled out. Attacks could be indiscriminate, even in places visited by foreigners.”
I booked a vacation in Dubai. What are my options?
Unless the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has warned against travel to the United Arab Emirates – a very unlikely event – there will be no legal right for passengers to change their plans without penalty. This applies to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Ras Al Khaimah and elsewhere.
The Package Travel Regulation, which governs holidays from the UK, states that if the travel organizer cannot deliver what has been booked due to “unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances”, you are entitled to a full refund. But at the moment, flights to Dubai – and elsewhere in the region – seem to continue as planned and tourism infrastructure in the United Arab Emirates is functioning normally.
I booked a stop in Abu Dhabi / Doha / Dubai on the way to my final destination. I don’t want to stay longer than I need to. Can I switch to an immediate departure?
There is no automatic right to do this and a commission may be due.
The independent has contacted Etihad, Qatar Airways and Emirates to inquire about travelers to this location and this response will be updated when they respond.
I am booked on flights that require a plane change in the Gulf. Can I switch to a direct flight due to circumstances?
If your airline canceled both routes, without any immediate alternative, you could be reclassified on a direct flight. But there is no automatic right to change.
What about cruises?
In August 2019, P&O Cruises canceled the entire 2019-20 winter Gulf cruise program due to concerns about potential attacks. At the time, some observers claimed that the fact that P&O was a British company and used the Union flag prominently could increase the risk of being targeted.
A P&O Cruises spokesman said: “The itineraries are expected to resume at the end of 2020, but we will have the advice of the authorities and if changes are necessary, we will notify guests as soon as possible”.
According to online tracking sites, many cruise ships are located in the Gulf, including MSC Bellissimma in Abu Dhabi, Crystal Esprit in Doha and five in Dubai: MSC Lirica, Costa Diadema, jewel of the seas (Royal Caribbean), Horizon (Pullmantur) e Mein Schiff 5 (Tui).
Many other cruise ships are heading to Dubai: cruises between Singapore, India and the United Arab Emirates are especially popular. They will involve sailing across the Gulf of Hormuz.
At the moment all travel companies seem to follow their normal cancellation / modification policies.
What about the overflights in the region?
This is a serious concern for the aviation industry. A large amount of Europe-Asia traffic is routed across the Gulf, with flight paths typically passing through Iraq and / or Iran. If airlines decide to redirect them, this will result in longer trips, lost connections and higher fuel costs. If your flight is affected, the airline must find a solution for you.
Could Hajj be interested?
Tens of thousands of British Muslims are expected to make the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia in 2020. But since it will not take place until late July / early August, it is too early
Would you go to the Gulf right now?
Yes. I consider the risks of traveling to the United Arab Emirates or other Gulf countries such as Oman and Bahrain to be tolerably low. But an attack cannot be ruled out.