British holidaymakers are returning to Egypt and Turkey in droves this year, according to the Thomas Cook Holiday Report 2018.
The giant tour operator has sold 89% more holidays to Egypt than at the same point in 2017, while 84% more travelers have booked for Turkey than last year.
The increase in numbers to Egypt means visitor numbers to the Red Sea are now close to where they were for Thomas Cook in 2015.
On 31 October in that year, a Russian holiday flight crashed shortly after take-off from the main resort, Sharm el Sheikh, killing 224 passengers and crew.
It is believed that a bomb was placed on board the plane while it was on the ground in Egypt. Five days after the tragedy, the UK government banned British airlines from operating to and from Sharm el Sheikh.
The prohibition remains in place, despite Egyptian claims that security standards at its airports are now world class. For the past two years, the Foreign Office travel advice has read: “The UK government will continue working with the Egyptian authorities to enable regular flights between the UK and Sharm el Sheikh to resume.
“We are also liaising with travel companies so that they are able to resume flights and holidays in Sharm el Sheikh as soon as appropriate security arrangements are in place.”
Because of the continuing ban, most British tourists stay in Hurghada and Marsa Alam, on the opposite shore of the Red Sea.
Thomas Cook said that 51% of bookings for Egypt are for families.
The company said: “Clearly, the nation’s appetite for sunshine at a fair price fuels our demand to revisit these old favorites.”
In February 2018, Thomas Cook became the first major UK tour operator to return to Tunisia, where 30 British holidaymakers were gunned down in a terrorist attack in June 2015.
Forty-four per cent of bookings to the North African nation of Tunisia are for families. Peter Fankhauser, Thomas Cook chief executive, said: “We started with just a handful of hotels near to Hammamet where we were confident that we could offer the quality our customers expect.
“Our first flights sold out and bookings have been strong in the months since. Meanwhile, the Tunisian people have gone out of their way to make our customers feel welcome, recognising our commitment to rebuild the destination. As a result, we have increased our flight program to 11 flights a week for this summer.”
The Foreign Office warns: “Terrorists are still very likely to try to carry out attacks in Tunisia.”
Thomas Cook said a combination of security fears, together with the collapse of firms such as Monarch, are steering travelers back from independent trips to package holidays.
“Ongoing political uncertainty, combined with the regrettable failure in recent years of several established holiday companies, has no doubt influenced the nation’s decision to think again about how they holiday,” the firm said.
Thomas Cook is following its larger rival, TUI, in adding premium accommodation and offloading cheaper options. The firm reports five-star bookings are up 38 per cent. Self-catering bookings for summer 2018 are down 9 per cent.
“If travelers are concerned about the economy, Brexit or any impending financial doom, they do a good job of hiding it,” the firm said.
The move to buying on smartphones is continuing: 23 per cent of holiday bookings made online with Thomas Cook are on mobiles, while one in five of all bookings for Thomas Cook Airlines are made on a smartphone.