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FCO: ‘Non-essential travel’ advice ‘driven by safety’

A senior Foreign Office figure has defended the system of travel advice against criticism from some destination governments and global industry organisations, insisting it is unaffected by political considerations.

Benjamin Saoul, head of the crisis management department at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said: “Advice has to be driven by issues of safety and security.”

He told an Abta Travel Law Seminar in London: “Trade or political concerns do not affect our advice. We are driven by considerations for the safety and security of the public.

“If a government tries to shift our advice, we explain that very clearly.”

Authorities in Egypt have repeatedly criticised the FCO’s advice against flying to Sharm el-Sheikh, in place since late 2015 following the bombing of a Russian holiday jet after take-off from Sharm airport.

The UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) and World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) have also repeatedly criticised the Sharm ban, pointing out terrorist bombings have taken place in Paris and Brussels without comparable advice against travel.

Saoul told the Abta seminar in London: “When we advise against all but essential travel it means we assess there is a heightened risk.”

He said: “It’s a difficult area, not least because of the wide variety of sources [we draw on] and how we use classified intelligence.

“We try to talk about the predictability of a threat – whether a threat is likely, the extent of a terrorist threat, how high the security threat is.

“Equally, the effectiveness of the security response will be a crucial part of any decision taken.”

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