As ITIJ went to press, the number of people killed in the terror attack was still climbing, and there were reports that at least one of those who survived the attack, Allison Heathcote, was in a medically induced coma after undergoing emergency surgery for multiple bullet wounds. British Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed that the majority of people killed in the attack, which saw Rezgui approach the beach via speedboat and wander amongst the tourists on sunbeds before opening fire with a Kalashnikov, were British, with one German known to have died, and three Irish tourists confirmed as being fatally wounded in the attack. Rezgui reportedly targeted Western-looking tourists, with reports stating that he told other tourists to ‘go away’ before opening fire. He was later killed by security forces, who found a bomb on his body.
British travel industry association ABTA released a statement on 27 June that read: “We continue to liaise with our members, the Tunisian authorities and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office concerning the welfare of holidaymakers in Tunisia and the most appropriate actions to take. The first priority is the welfare of holidaymakers in the hotels affected by this terrible incident and extra flights have been put on to help people return home.” Tour operators from across Europe were quick to also lay on additional aircraft to fly those who wished to leave back to their home countries, or onwards to an alternative holiday destination. Thousands of tourists, though, are believed to have stayed in resorts in Tunisia, with some saying that the area was safer after the attack due to the high level of security surrounding hotels.
A reinforced British Embassy team was on the scene soon after the attack, providing consular assistance to British nationals. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) offered the following advice to tourists: “Further terrorist attacks in Tunisia, including in tourist resorts, are possible, including by individuals who are unknown to the authorities and whose actions are inspired by terrorist groups via social media. You should be especially vigilant at this time and follow the advice of Tunisian security authorities and your tour operator.” Noticeable, though, was the absence of a warning against all travel to Tunisia – which would trigger cancellation clauses among tour operators and travel insurers. Sean Tipton of ABTA said: “[The FCO] are the experts in this area, and they haven’t advised against travel to Tunisia. It’s an unfortunate but inescapable fact that there’s a high threat of terrorism around the world. But that doesn’t mean that business grinds to a halt.”
Tui, one of Europe’s biggest tour operators, has caused confusion and irritation among customers from different countries for having varying cancellation policies. Customers in Germany are being offered full refunds for cancellations of trips booked to Tunisia up until mid-September, but British customers are being offered full refunds or cancellation only on trips booked from now until August. Thomson, the UK brand of Tui, confirmed that ‘amendments can be made to bookings on holiday to Tunisia until 31 July’. It is thought that between 80,000 and 100,000 holidaymakers are due to head to Tunisia this summer from Britain alone.