Foreign Office stance on Tunisia means Northern Ireland travellers could still face cancellation fees
Hundreds of Northern Ireland holidaymakers who have booked trips to Tunisia will have to go - or lose their money - because the Foreign Office has not warned against travel there.
Many potential travellers are racked with fear and anxiety after 38 people - including around 30 Britons and three Irish - were killed in a one-gunman massacre on a beach in the Sousse resort on Friday.
Travel advice on the Foreign Office website cautions: "Further terrorist attacks in Tunisia, including in tourist resorts, are possible" and it advises people to be "especially vigilant" when visiting the African country.
That stops short, however, of advising against travel there.
And it means that those who are due to depart for resorts - including Sousse - officially have no option but to go or lose their money because tour operators and airlines are entitled to uphold their booking conditions and cite Foreign Office advice that the resorts are safe.
Technically, when you book a package holiday - covered via the Civil Aviation Authority's ATOL (Air Travel Organisers' Licensing) protection scheme - you are bound by the booking conditions.
For cancellations, these normally require you to forfeit your deposit - or the full balance, if you have already paid it - if you cancel.
The only other recourse for travellers is to rely on the goodwill of operators, which, of course, is not guaranteed.
A local travel agent confirmed that a number of Northern Ireland people are due to fly out from Dublin.
"We have some people going out this weekend but they haven't made up their minds if they're going or not yet," she said.
Northern Ireland ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) spokeswoman Doreen McKenzie said other local holidaymakers are likely to be flying to Tunisia from the London and Manchester airports as there are no direct flights from Belfast at this time.
"There are probably hundreds of Northern Ireland people in Tunisia at the minute and hundreds more are likely to be going in July and August which is the peak holiday period," she said.
"All tour operators follow the guidance from the Foreign Office and the situation at present is travel with care.
"This means anyone who chooses to cancel their booked holiday will be subject to the tour operator's booking conditions which will include cancellation fees. However, most tour operators are allowing free-of-charge changes and amendments with Thomas Cook allowing anyone due to travel to the country before or on July 12 to cancel or amend their holiday free of charge.
"Anyone due to visit the country for the rest of the summer season, ending on October 31, will also still be able to amend their holiday free of charge."
She added: "Go to www.ABTA.com and link to each tour operator's statement outlining the short term measures they individually are offering."
At present, travel advice for Britons on the Foreign Office website warns holidaymakers to proceed with caution.
"Further terrorist attacks in Tunisia, including in tourist resorts, are possible, including by individuals who are unknown to the authorities and whose actions are inspired by terrorist groups via social media" it says.
"You should be especially vigilant at this time and follow the advice of Tunisian security authorities and your tour operator."
Meanwhile, a book of condolence opened today at Belfast City Hall in memory of the victims of the atrocity.
Lord Mayor Arder Carson was the first to sign the book, which marks a gesture of sympathy and solidarity with the victims' and their grieving families and will be open to the public during regular city council business hours.