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Homesingapore world'Better to stay safe': Singapore travellers cancel holidays to Middle East amid...

'Better to stay safe': Singapore travellers cancel holidays to Middle East amid Israel-Hamas war

SINGAPORE: The Great Wall of China, Taj Mahal, Christ the Redeemer, Machu Picchu and the Colosseum. These are some of the “wonders of the world” Dr Chua Ee Chek has seen so far. 

This year, he would have crossed another off his list with his trip to Jordan – the ancient city of Petra.

But instead, the 63-year-old ophthalmologist is spending his holiday closer to home, in Hokkaido, Japan.

Together with six friends, Dr Chua was scheduled to travel to Petra through Istanbul from Oct 22 to Nov 3.

“We decided to cancel the trip about a week after Oct 7,” Dr Chua told CNA, referring to the day when Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel, killing at least 1,400 people.

“Although the travel agents in Jordan told us it was business as usual, our main concern was the possibility of escalation to the other parts of the Middle East,” said Dr Chua. Jordan shares a border with the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Like Dr Chua, several travellers from Singapore are cancelling their plans to visit countries in the Middle East over safety concerns. 

Retirees Lisa Ng and her husband had booked a tour for next month with a Christian travel agency, which would bring them to Egypt, Israel and Jordan.

After the war broke out, Mrs Ng said the agency offered two options: To continue the tour to Egypt and Jordan, skipping Israel; or postpone it to next year. 

“But I thought it was not very safe to be around there. So, we decided to cancel,” said the 65-year-old.

“It’s better to stay safe, stay far away from the area for the moment.”

Mrs Ng added that she decided to cancel after Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) released an advisory that Singaporeans should avoid all travel to Gaza Strip and the West Bank as well as all non-essential travel to Israel. 

Having been to Israel in 2016, missing it this time around was “not too much of a loss” for Mrs Ng. However, she had been looking forward to seeing the pyramids in Egypt as well as Petra in Jordan. 

“I was a bit disappointed that I won’t be able to go.”

Related:

Singaporeans living in Israel and Palestinian Territories should leave as soon as possible: MFA

As Dr Chua cancelled his trip less than 30 days before it was scheduled to begin, he told CNA that he was not able to get a refund for the tour, which cost S$10,000 (US$7,300) per person. 

“We are still negotiating for a refund of 40 per cent and rescheduling the tour to a later date next year,” he said. 

Dr Chua added that he is not able to claim the cost from his travel insurance policy as MFA has not issued a travel advisory on Jordan.

In Mrs Ng’s case, as she bought her flight tickets online, she had to pay both the cancellation charges as well as the platform’s service fees. 

She is hoping she can get back at least 30 per cent of the fees she paid to the travel agency for costs such as accommodation, meals and some of the attractions she was supposed to visit. 

AGENCIES GOING AHEAD WITH TOURS

Travel agencies CNA spoke to said they have no plans to cancel tours to places such as Egypt and Dubai. 

For customers with concerns about travelling to the Middle East, Commonwealth Travel Service Corp – better known as CTC Travel – is looking at this on a “case-by-case basis”, said head of public relations Diana Tan.

It has offered various options to customers, including transferring to other destinations or rescheduling their trips without penalty.

The agency currently has a tour group in Egypt. Ms Tan said the company maintains daily communication with its tour manager and local travel partner in Egypt to ensure the safety of customers throughout their journey.

“Generally, the daily lives of local residents and tourist attractions in Egypt remain unaffected,” said Ms Tan.

“We will continue to provide regular updates and safety information to our customers, including any necessary itinerary adjustments or contingency plans,” Ms Tan said. 

Another travel agency, EU Holidays, has a tour group in Egypt now. The company is keeping a “close watch” on the news and travel advisories from MFA, said director Ong Hanjie. 

Besides Israel, MFA on Oct 18 also advised Singaporeans to defer all travel to Lebanon and that those currently in the country should leave as soon as possible via commercial options.

Related:

Arab leaders denounce Israel attacks on Gaza as risks to region rise

At the gates of Gaza, aid piles up in Egypt

CANCELLATION POLICIES

If customers choose to cancel their trip, EU Holidays’ cancellation policy would apply, said Mr Ong.

Under its policy, customers who cancel their tours at least 35 days before the departure date will have to forfeit a minimum deposit, which is at least S$1,000. 

If they cancel the tour within seven days of the departure date, they will be charged the full fare inclusive of taxes. And if air tickets have been issued, customers will also have to bear the cost of flights.

For CTC Travel, customers who cancel at least 35 days in advance will be charged S$300 or the cost of air tickets, whichever is higher. For a cancellation notice of three days or less, they will have to pay the full cost of the tour. 

Mr Ong said EU Holidays cannot waive its cancellation fees if MFA has not issued a travel advisory for the tour destination.

“If there’s a travel advisory from MFA then the situation will be different.” It would then be “a straight-up cancellation”, Mr Ong said, adding that the agency would also offer customers alternatives. 

CNA also contacted several airlines on their refund policy for flights to the Middle East. Singapore Airlines, Scoot and Cathay Pacific declined to comment, citing commercially sensitive information. 

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