Thousands of UK holidaymakers in The Gambia are to be flown home after the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) issued travel advice amid rising political unrest. If you've booked a package deal to the West African country you should be able to get a full refund, but the situation for DIY trips is less clear cut.
The FCO is now advising against all but essential travel to The Gambia and says those currently in the country for non-crucial reasons should leave, as a contested presidential election result could lead to airport closures and military action.
Though not a leading holiday location, the country is an established winter sun destination. Travel trade body ABTA estimates there are about 2,000 people from the UK on package holidays in the country, and a further 1,500 travellers who have booked their flights and accommodation separately.
If you've booked an upcoming package holiday to The Gambia, you should be able to get your money back via a free cancellation or you'll be able to opt for a replacement holiday. However, if you've booked flights and accommodation separately you may find your hotel booking is non-refundable.
Check out our Cheap Package Holidays guide if you were thinking about booking a package deal to The Gambia and are now looking for other options.
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I'm holidaying in The Gambia – what should I do?
The UK Government strongly advises you to leave the country via "commercial means" – typically passenger airlines – if your stay there is not essential.
- If you're on a package holiday: Speak to your tour operator as it's its responsibility to arrange return flights for you.
- If you're on a DIY trip (flights and accommodation booked separately): Speak to your airline ASAP and request to be flown home. Airlines are offering early return flights to independent travellers, but it's subject to availability.
Responding to the Government's warning, Thomas Cook announced plans to fly home its 985 package holiday customers over the next 48 hours, while about 2,500 other travellers who only booked flights with the tour operator will be offered "the earliest possible flight" to return to the UK.
Smaller tour operator The Gambia Experience said it's contacting its 225 package holiday customers and 109 customers with flight-only bookings in the country to provide details of their repatriation options.
Meanwhile, the FCO is advising all holidaymakers in the country to "follow events closely, take extra care, keep in regular contact with your tour operator and airline and continue to monitor travel advice and social media updates".
For your safety you're advised to avoid large crowds and not to discuss politically sensitive topics in public.
What if I've a trip booked in future?
- Package trips: You shouldn't lose out financially, but you do need to get in touch with your tour operator to discuss your options. Depending on the date you're due to travel, it may offer you a free cancellation or a replacement holiday in a safer location.
- DIY trips:
Speak to your airline and accommodation provider to see where you stand in terms of refunds. Airlines may offer to refund or exchange your flight tickets, although there's a chance you could lose money on hotel bookings and any other prepaid excursions or services in the country if you're unable to travel there and you can't get a refund.
If you've travel insurance you should check your policy wording or contact your insurer/broker to see if your accommodation (and associated costs) is covered.
Thomas Cook told us it would provide free amendments or cancellations for package holidays and flight-only bookings to The Gambia up to and including Tuesday 31 January. For packages and flights departing after that date, travellers will be offered a free amendment only.