London - Britons are turning their backs on traditional holiday destinations after the recent terror attacks across Europe.
Instead, tourists are heading to the Caribbean island of Cuba, and the ex-Eastern Bloc state of Bulgaria – which are viewed as good value and free from the threat of Islamist fanatics.
Thomas Cook, Britain’s largest tour operator, revealed it had slashed airline capacity to Turkey by 40 percent following suicide attacks and an abortive coup against dictatorial President Recep Erdogan.
The company was forced to cancel 80 000 passenger seats to the country, but said it had seen a spike in numbers turning to Bulgaria and Cuba.
The countries are seen as relatively cheap, with the pound going a long way, and interesting destinations.
Turkey has typically accounted for almost a fifth of the holidays Thomas Cook sells each year, but in a financial update the firm said this has shrunk to 11 percent.
It is still its fourth most popular destination, with 1.8 million holidaymakers pushing ahead with plans to travel there.
But Thomas Cook said sales dipped eight percent to £1.85-billion while pre-tax losses grew to £64-million. Summer bookings were down by five percent. The company added that its business in France, Germany and Belgium – three nations to have suffered high-profile attacks – had also been hit hard.
Bookings for Europe were down nine percent, with the firm blaming “lower consumer confidence … as well as significantly lower demand in Belgium as a result of terrorist attacks”.
Routes have been diverted from Turkey and those to Egypt’s Sharm El Sheikh have been cancelled entirely.
Besides Cuba and Bulgaria, travellers are also switching to the US, despite the weak pound making stateside spending less attractive. Thomas Cook’s chief executive, Peter Fankhauser, said: “Demand for Turkey has been volatile and remains significantly below last year’s levels. Since the half-year, we’ve … increased sales of holidays to other areas, including the western Mediterranean and long-haul destinations such as the US.
‘Growth to smaller destinations such as Bulgaria and Cuba is also strong.’
It comes a day after France’s national airline, Air France-KLM, warned that the country has become unattractive for tourists due to the elevated terror treat.
ISLAND THAT’S WARM ALL YEAR
You’re unlikely to be charged more than £1.50 (about R30) for a small beer in Cuba and a meal for two could cost you just over £10.
Beachside five-star hotels can be little more than £100 per night in a package deal, though prices at the top-end resorts can be much higher.
Cuba has two official currencies, the peso and “convertible peso”, which is pegged to the dollar’s value and often used by tourists.
There is almost no broadband, and internet connections in homes are rare.
It has snowed only once in Cuba’s recorded history, during March 1857.
The island’s hottest month is June, with an average temperature of 27C in the capital, Havana – but even in January, its coldest month, the average temperature is 21C.
PULL OF THE ‘RED RIVIERA’
Bulgaria boasts beaches along its Black Sea coast – known in its Communist days as the Red Riviera – and ski resorts in the west.
The capital, Sofia, is one of Europe’s oldest cities – its Church of St George was built by Romans in the 4th century.
Bulgaria is an EU member, but uses the lev as currency. A single lev, which divides into 100 stotinki, is around 45p.
Rooms in luxury five-star hotels in the city can be found for under £100 a night, while a pint of Bulgarian beer can be less than £1.
A popular dish is shopska salata – onion, tomatoes, cucumbers, raw or roasted peppers, cheese and parsley.
The nation’s favourite drink is a fruit brandy, Rakia.
Bulgarians shake heads to mean yes – and nod for no.