Wildfires ‘will clearly happen again’ and travel industry plans ‘need overhaul’

Wildfires on the Greek island of Rhodes (Conor Cullen/PA)
Wildfires on the Greek island of Rhodes (Conor Cullen/PA)

Wildfires in the Mediterranean will “clearly happen again” and the travel industry needs to “rework its plans”, it has been claimed.

Paul Charles, CEO of travel PR firm PC Agency, called for an overhaul of the Foreign Office travel advice system which left holidaymakers “confused and worried about losing their money”.

It comes after thousands of Britons have been rescued from fire-hit parts of the popular Greek holiday island Rhodes while others are having to cancel planned trips.

The Foreign Office has not advised Britons to avoid non-essential travel to the entire island, while some travel companies are continuing to fly holidaymakers to Rhodes as they claim the blazes are not affecting the whole island.

Mr Charles said: “Sadly we’re going to have to get used to more incidents like this – wildfires in the southern Mediterranean are going to become more common, so the travel industry needs to rework its plans for how to deal with this sort of thing.

“Consumers will want more reassurance in the future about the hotspot areas that will mean airlines and travel operators will need to have better plans in place for dealing with these sort of crisis and that might mean more flexible refund policies, it might mean putting more resources on the ground in a destination over the summer period so that they’re prepared.

“I do think the Foreign Office now needs to conduct a complete overhaul of its travel advice system.

“It failed the industry this week because the advice didn’t change and also consumers were caught between a rock and a hard place as they knew they would lose their money if they didn’t carry on with their booking and fly into the zones affected.

  • For travel advice from the UK government click here
Satellite imagery of wildfires on the island of Rhodes in Greece

Satellite imagery of wildfires on the island of Rhodes in Greece (Planet Labs PBC)

“There needs to be a complete overhaul of the Foreign Office travel advice system – what it’s for, how it changes and it needs to be in consultation with the industry.

“Either they create a whole new system or the Foreign Office doesn’t do travel advice and creates a new code of conduct for airlines and travel operators to follow.

“It’s left consumers confused and worried about losing their money.

“The travel advice from the Foreign Office is not fit for purpose for climate change.”

Mr Charles added of the wildfires: “Clearly it will happen again in the future, if not this year then next year.

“This is a wake-up call for airlines and travel firms to rethink their response plans in this sort of situation.”

In pictures: European wildfires

One of the UK’s leading climate scientists, Sir David King, said climate change is set to fuel more severe blazes in the future and tourists planning trips to the Mediterranean should see the Greek wildfires as a “big, big warning”.

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said some travel companies “dragged their feet” on updating flexible booking policies, making holidaymakers choose between “travelling into a natural disaster zone, or sensibly cancelling and losing their money as a result”.

He added: “Without a Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office warning against travel to the affected regions, travellers who don’t want to go but are refused flexibility to rebook are likely to be left holding the bill for acting sensibly, and will be unable to claim on their travel insurance.”

It urged holidaymakers due to visit the island in the coming weeks not to cancel now as they may not get a refund.

But trade association Abta said the travel industry is “well-versed in responding to international events”.

A spokesperson said: “The number one priority has been – and always will be – people’s health and safety. The response to the wildfires in Rhodes has been a collaboration between the Greek authorities, travel industry and UK Foreign Office.

“The travel industry is well-versed in responding to international events, particularly in rapidly changing circumstances, with the health and safety of customers the priority.

“It has clearly been a very difficult and upsetting time for those affected by the wildfires, both in Rhodes and due to travel, and Abta members have been working flat out to support those customers.

“The purpose of the Foreign Office travel advice is to provide important advice on destinations. Rhodes is a large island and a significant proportion is unaffected by the wildfires, meaning people can and have been able to continue to enjoy holidays in those parts.

“We know many people want to continue to holiday in Rhodes this week and have done so.”

Wildfires on the Greek island of Rhodes

Wildfires on the Greek island of Rhodes (Conor Cullen/PA)

Tui had carried out five repatriation flights by Wednesday morning and has cancelled all flights to Rhodes up to and including Friday, with holidays scrapped for those going to affected hotels before and on August 11.

Passengers due to travel up to and including Sunday for all areas of Rhodes will be offered a fee free amend to another holiday or the option to cancel for a full refund. Flights from Rhodes back to the UK & Ireland are being operated as scheduled.

Holiday firm Jet2 said it had cancelled all flights and holidays to Rhodes until Sunday and around 1,000 Britons in affected areas have either flown home or moved to hotels in unaffected parts of the island.

It said it will make a decision on what happens beyond Sunday in the coming days.

Thomas Cook said holidaymakers who “choose to do so” continue to arrive in other parts of the island and it has issued refunds for all customers who had booked to stay in Kiotari and Lardos on Rhodes’ south-east coast up to and including Monday.

It added that if those customers no longer wish to travel to Rhodes they can amend their holiday to a different destination or departure date or receive a full refund.