The situation on the tourist market of Ukraine has changed in 2013. Tours to cheap and popular resorts of Egypt, Turkey, Tunis have become risky due to highly charged political situation within the countries. However, considering the reports of tour operators, regular warnings of the Foreign Ministry have not had a daunting effect on Ukrainians, and much of it is owed to the fact that alternative destinations are too expensive. In an interview with lawyer Mykola Golbyn, expert of the project Universal Assistance and member of the international organization PEOPIL, ForUm has learned about current situation regarding tourist safety in popular tourist destinations and ways to minimize the risks and negative consequences of the visit.

- Regardless of alarming news from Egypt and warnings of the Foreign Ministry, Ukrainians keep buying tours to Egypt, considering its cheap costs. What is an objective estimation of risks for our travelers?

- The level of risk for Ukrainian tourists is rather high. Egypt is the most sensitive country of the Middle East. No tourist is safe there during mass disorders and regular clashes between law enforcements and representatives of the opposition. Moreover, there is certain discrimination on the part of local population. Egyptians consider every foreigner an intruder, and Ukrainians cannot be certain that local authorities will help them in case their rights are violated. Other potential risks include rise in crime and extremism, robbery, terrorist attack, hostage situation. 

- How often do Ukrainians appear in really grave situations? What are the most common problems after the aggravation of political situation in Egypt?

- Such situations are not so much frequent as high-profile. There was an incident happened to a young Ukrainian couple, who wanted to see the capital and willingly left the territory of their hotel to visit Cairo. In the result they found themselves in the center of street clashes between protesters and police. Ukrainians were caught in the rain of stones and metal bars and suffered minor injuries.
In such situations, lack of proper medical assistance is the biggest problem. An injured Ukrainian woman, for example, has remained scarred due to low professionalism of an Egyptian doctor. Moreover, tourists have to pay for medical assistance from their pocket, because insurance does not cover the cases, when tourists willingly leave relatively safe territory of the hotel regardless of the warning not to do so.

- What are the most common problems our tourists face visiting sensitive countries? And how can they avoid these problems?

- As I said, the most common problem includes the risks of physical and moral injuries during mass disorders. Moreover, it is rather difficult to get proper legal assistance, as legislations of sensitive countries do not always regulate the rights of foreigners. It is also difficult to get compensation or sue a tour operator, which sent tourists to a trouble spot. Any tour operator must observe the public agreement, thus cannot deny tourists a tour, even to a trouble spot, and it does bear responsibility for negative consequences. Refraining from visiting trouble spots is the best option. Ukrainians should understand that their safety is in their hands. In order to avoid any incidents, tourists should learn political, social and ecological situation before going to a foreign country, as well as listen to recommendations of the Foreign Ministry. 

- Alternative destinations include Arab Emirates, Israel, Thailand. How safe is there?

- Safety is a relative concept and depends on the situation. Thus, bypassing the promotion of resorts in UAE, Israel or Thailand, tourists should regularly follow the news on political situation in these countries. In the spring of 2013, for example, there were civil disorders observed in Thailand, and considering the protest action of the opposition, planned for November 19 in Bangkok, mass disorders may happen again. Apart from political instability, tourists face the risks of poor services and incompetence of local personnel. In Thailand, for example, the risk of food poisoning is very high. There have also been cases of injuries during active leisure, like motor-boating or balloon rides.

Modern Israel, with all its pleasure resorts, is under permanent threat of terrorist attacks from Palestine, Lebanon and Egypt. Such popular tourist resorts as Ashdod, Ashkelon, Eastern Jerusalem often suffer rocket attacks. Eilat resort located at the northern tip of the Red Sea is also not always safe. Terrorist activity is observed there mostly in autumn and winter months. Moreover, every tourist visiting Israel must know about the risks of hostage situations or bombing.

Arab Emirates, including famous tourist center Dubai, are relatively stable and safe comparing to the above mentioned states, though public protests happen their as well. It is important for Ukrainians to understand what society they go to. Not all countries welcome our usual lifestyle. Thus, well-bred behavior and respect to local traditions will save you the trouble of dealing with negative consequences, especially in an Islamic state. 

- How do host countries solve similar problems?

- Any tourist destination country with unstable political situation must take measures to protect foreigners. We see that despite mass disorders, protest actions and civil unrest tourists keep going to Egypt, Syria, Tunis and even Turkey, and these countries keep welcoming them, because tourism remains an important and profitable sector of their economies. Thus, authorities of these countries often turn the blind eye to the risks, though all tourists are recommended not to leave the territory of hotels and resorts.

- The Foreign Ministry of Ukraine cannot actually forbid Ukrainians to visit this or that country. However, is it true that the Ministry disclaims any responsibility if Ukrainians decide to visit a trouble spot anyway?

- The prime function of the Foreign Ministry is to represent and protect the rights of citizens abroad. Thus, the Ministry cannot disclaim the responsibility whatsoever. And even if a Ukrainian citizen decides to visit a trouble spot against the warning, and some incident happens to him there, the Ministry is obliged to render legal assistance, to bring this citizen home and to assist with compensation claims for physical or moral damage. During disorders in Libya and Syria, for example, the Foreign Ministry organized evacuation of Ukrainian citizens.

In case of emergency situations abroad, Ukrainians must appeal to consulates and embassies of Ukraine on the territory of a host country, directly or interactively (by phone or Internet).

- How does the current situation affect the conditions of tourist insurance?

- Tourists should understand that insurance covers only the territory of a hotel and public places, visiting of which is provided by a tour. And going to a trouble spot, every Ukrainian tourist must realize that compensation of physical and/or moral damage caused by mass disorders or military operations does not fall within competence of the insurance company. Insurance compensations are not provided for tourists, who chose to ignore recommendations of the Foreign Ministry of Ukraine and went to a trouble spot at their own risk.

- Have the insurance conditions for Ukrainian tourists abroad changed comparing to the last year? Have the quality of service improved?

- The latest trend of this year includes individual insurances. Insurance tariffs for countries with expensive medical assistance, like Turkey for example, have been increased. Tourists, who want to do extreme sports, are offered a special extended insurance, covering not only hospitalization, but also sanitary transportation and evacuation and emergency medical treatment under any conditions. The insurance rate of medical and financial risks has increased by 20% this year. However, I must say that these improvements are happening under the influence of sad incidents occurred to our fellow citizens, when Ukrainians died due to inflexibility of insurance conditions. In my opinion, insurance conditions must improve further to minimize negative consequences of accidents abroad and prevent lethal outcomes.

Valentyna Dudko


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