Brits advised against all but essential travel to Sri Lanka

May 16, 2022

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For tourists, Sri Lanka is a nation known for its tranquil beauty.

From its vast national parks and big-hearted elephant sanctuaries to its majestic colonial architecture, its reputation as “The Pearl of the Indian Ocean” is well-earned.

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But that tranquillity has been shattered in recent weeks amid rising tensions over shortages of fuel, cooking gas and medicine, as well as rolling power cuts.

And now, the British government has warned against all but essential travel until the protests blow over.

What is happening in Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka is in the grip of a devastating economic crisis that has engulfed the island of 22 million people.

While the pandemic has had some impact on Sri Lanka’s economy, the president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, stands accused of economic mismanagement and corruption that has left the country in its worst financial crisis since independence.

Essentially, Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves have now dropped so low that the country cannot afford to import basic essentials such as fuel, food and medicines.

Related: UK Foreign Office finally gives clarity on British passport rules for European travel

Protests have blighted the streets of the capital Colombo for more than a month, and are now beginning to bleed into the countryside.

And they have grown increasingly violent.

A state of emergency was declared on 6 May, before the government deployed troops and armoured vehicles across Colombo. And this week, security officials gave the military orders to shoot on sight anyone seen to be participating in violence or vandalism.

And on Monday, Mahinda Rajapaksa was forced to resign as prime minister amid mounting pressure, and had to be evacuated at dawn on Tuesday from his official residence in Colombo after protesters tried to storm the building.

A nationwide curfew is now in place.

Are tourists subject to the curfew?

Tourists in the country are being urged to leave, and have been told they can break the curfew to get to the airport. They may need to provide their passports and travel documents if stopped.

What is the UK foreign office saying?

In short, The Foreign Office’s advice is simple: don’t go.

It says: “A State of Emergency has been declared and an island-wide curfew is in place.

“Several incidents took place on 9 May involving violence against peaceful protesters, including in the Galle Face area in Colombo, where the security authorities used tear gas and water cannons. Incidents also took place near Beira Lake in Colombo, Kandy, and in other parts of the country, resulting in injuries and loss of life. Further incidents could take place.”

Related: Scoot launching low-haul, low-cost flights from London to Thailand and Singapore

It adds: “There have been a number of protests since 31 March 2022. Further protests are likely to take place across the island. The Government of Sri Lanka may impose local restrictions at short notice. You should be vigilant, avoid any demonstrations or large gatherings, and follow the advice of the local authorities. Find out more in the Political situation section.”

I’ve a holiday booked – can I now cancel it?

Now that the Foreign Office (FCO) is advising against all travel to Sri Lanka, there is a good chance you CAN cancel and get a refund on your booking.

Your first port of call should be with your tour operator, as they may offer you a full refund. That is what happened the last time the FCO recommended against all but essential travel to Sri Lanka in 2019 after a series of terror attacks rocked the country.

One tour operator which offers tours to Sri Lanka is Exodus Travels, which promises to refund any trips that are “significantly affected by unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances”. It lists in its terms and conditions “civil unrest or events arising out of political instability” as one such extraordinary circumstance, as is the “UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) advising against travel to a particular destination.”

Another is Kuoni, one of Europe’s largest travel operators.

Today, a spokesperson for the Switzerland-based company told TPG: “We are actively calling all customers booked to travel to Sri Lanka over the next few weeks to offer them the opportunity to book an alternative destination or have a refund.”

some airlines have also offered to refund cancelled tickets, too, including Emirates, Qatar and Sri Lankan Airlines.

If all that fails, your insurance policy should now pay out. Before the FCO issued its official advice, insurers would likely have refused to cover cancelled trips. But now the advice is official, most policies should cover your costs. But as always, it’s important to check with your insurer first.

The Points Guy has reached out to the Association of British Insurers for further information.

Featured image by Lori Zaino/TPG.

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