- All holiday flights from Denmark to Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco during the next few weeks have been cancelled after the Danish government warned that the violent protests against the Mohammed cartoons "may spread to other countries." Denmark is still the only country warning its citizens from going to North Africa, but in several other countries, tour operators and airliners have offered nervous travellers free cancellation opportunities. Many have made use of them.
The Copenhagen Ministry of Foreign Affairs today changed its travel warnings for a group of 15 Muslim countries, including all North Africa and Sudan. "The latest days have seen demonstrations in many countries and attacks on Danish diplomatic representations in Syria and Lebanon. Developments have shown that the crisis can spread to other countries," the Danish Ministry says. Indeed, since the publication, Danish representations in Turkey and Iran have been attacked by Muslim fundamentalists, calling for the killing of all Danes.
The consequences of the revised Danish travel advises are immediate for the popular North African holiday destinations of Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco. While the Copenhagen government does not advise its citizens to interrupt holidays here they have already started, the Ministry "advises Danes not to commence travels" to North Africa "that are not absolutely necessary."
Danish tour operators and airliners thus with immediate effect have stopped new flights and charter trips to Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco. The Icelandic-owned airliner Sterling today "decided to cease its scheduled flights between Copenhagen and Cairo.Last day of operation will be 11 February 2006." Sterling refers to "the unsteady situation in the Middle East" and the Foreign Ministry's travel advice.
The main tour operators serving the rather large Danish tourist market reacted equally. German-owned StarTour (TUI) cancelled all trips to Morocco and Egypt with departure until 21 February. Danish-owned Spies and British-owned MyTravel Denmark announced they were already calling all customers planning to go to Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco during the next two weeks. Swedish-owned Apollo cancelled all trips to from Denmark to Hurghada and Sharm el Sheik (Egypt) and promised to let Danes travelling to North Africa from Sweden cancel their trips.
The more than 3000 Danes planning to go to North Africa within the next few weeks are all to be offered alternative holiday destinations, the tour operators indicated. One winner already seems to be crystallising; the Canary Islands. StarTour today announced it already had chartered three extra airplanes to Gran Canaria. Apollo offered Danes originally heading for Egypt safer holidays in Gran Canaria.
Denmark is so far the only country advising its citizens against visiting North Africa due to the uproar caused by the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet of Islam, Mohammed. The cartoon were originally published in the Danish daily 'Jyllands-Posten', leading to the main anger among Muslims being directed towards Denmark. Norway - which was the second country to publish the caricatures - and Austria - currently heading the European Union - have also been hard hit by violent Muslim activists.
Norway so far only has advised its citizens from visiting Syria - where the Norwegian Embassy was burned down - and Palestine. The Austrian Foreign Ministry has issued a milder warning against travelling to Muslim countries, including all of North Africa. "Tourists and business travellers are urgently advised to act with care ... and to avoid political or religious discussions," the Vienna government tells its citizens. Sweden warns against travels to Palestine, Syrian and Lebanon. Britain and Italy warn only against Syria, while France warns against Israel and Palestine. Germany, Spain and Switzerland have issued no new warnings at all.
Most European Ministries of Foreign Affairs however indicate that their travel warnings for Muslim countries may change on short notice. Western tourists have been urged to closely follow their government's assessment of the situation in the country they plan to visit. Norwegian authorities today indicated security assessments are made constantly and could change quickly. Regarding North Africa, "we have not changed our travel advices," Norway's Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said today.
While most Western governments try to calm down the situation by not changing their travel security warnings, the public is making other assessments. In Norway, influenced by the new Danish travel advices, many cancellations have been registered. Even Statoil, Norway's state-owned oil company, today distributed a message to its employees, advising against trips to the Middle East - including Egypt - if possible.
Swedish and Norwegian tour operators publicly have emphasised that there is no need to cancel trips to North Africa just because Danes are advised to do so. Viewing the possibility of a coming national travel warning, the tourism giants have however been flexible and let nervous passengers change their destination to a non-Muslim country, typically Spain. All major tour operators have registered tens of cancellations on a daily basis since the crisis escalated. Mostly flights to Egypt are being cancelled, while Norwegian tourists still seem more confident in Morocco and Tunisia.
Only slowly, the trend is spreading to other European countries. In Germany, Europe's largest travel market, first cancellations of Middle East and North Africa trips were registered already yesterday. Tour operators Thomas Cook and TUI and Germany's main airliner Lufthansa had all registered a small but growing number of cancellations. All maintained there was no unrest in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco and that they were in close contact with the German Foreign Ministry to assess possible risks.
Indeed, the situation in North Africa has been relatively calm compared to the Middle East. Nevertheless, the first large demonstrations took peacefully place in Egypt today. Egypt's foremost Muslim leader, Ahmed al-Tayeb of the al-Azhar University, joined an estimated crowd of 10,000 protesting against the Mohammed cartoons. Mr al-Tayeb called for action against Denmark and Norway. The Egyptian press also has come with inflammatory expressions against the Nordic countries.
For Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, the tourism industry is the leading source of foreign exchange and the fastest growing economic sector. The growth in the tourism industry has however slowed down the last year, much due to chronic unrest and political instability in the region. A wider warning against travelling to North Africa from other European countries could lead to serious economic consequences for the regional economy.
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