This is a developing story and will be updated with more information.
In recent weeks, the war between Israel and Hamas has seeped further into surrounding areas of the Middle East. Violence has reached the southern stretch of the Red Sea, where Houthi rebels have attacked cargo ships off the coast of Yemen, and the US has responded with its own airstrikes. On Israel’s border, clashes between Israel and the Hezbollah militant group in Lebanon continue to intensify.
While it's a no-brainer to reconfigure plans located in the immediate conflict zone, many travelers with upcoming trips to the surrounding region are wondering what to do. Is it safe, or responsible, to embark on a Nile cruise in Egypt at the moment? Or to continue on with a visit to Petra, in Jordan? The questions have become only murkier as the conflict expands.
Following a regional security alert issued by the State Department in October that advises US citizens throughout the Middle East to “take caution,” some travelers have responded by canceling trips, while others have pressed on with plans under the guidance of travel providers.
One luxury tour group, Red Savannah says that all travel they have arranged for clients in Egypt and Jordan is continuing as normal. “While we are holding off selling Lebanon, we believe that Egypt and Jordan continue to be safe destinations to visit,” says George Morgan-Grenville, CEO of Red Savannah. “Feedback from clients who traveled over Christmas was incredibly positive.”
According to data from the travel booking company Hopper, Jordan is currently seeing increased demand from US travelers compared to January of last year. US travel demand to Lebanon has dropped relative to other countries in the region, while bookings for Egypt have remained flat, Hopper tells Condé Nast Traveler.
For many, there's an emotional calculation to make when planning travel to countries in close proximity to conflict zones. “Every person has their own unique risk threshold,” says Dave Dennis, executive director of Cornerstone Safety Group, a risk management organization that supports travel companies. “An acceptable risk for one person can be very different from another.”
We asked safety and industry experts to share advice for travelers considering trips to Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and the Red Sea in the near future. Here's what travelers should know—from what's happening on the ground, to government advisories, to which choices other travelers are making.
Should you travel to Jordan right now?
The US State Department has kept Jordan under a “Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution” travel alert that it first issued on July 13. The only regions that travelers are instructed to avoid are the country’s borders with Syria and Iraq, its refugee camps, and Zarqa, Rusayfah, and the Baqa’a neighborhood of Ayn Basha due to ongoing safety concerns, according to the department’s guidance.
“Jordan, being further from regional unrest, remains at a Level 2 advisory, which is a common category for many regions globally,” says Dennis. As such, most tours throughout Jordan continue to operate as scheduled, and visitors can visit highlights like the Dead Sea, the Wadi Rum desert, Petra, and the capital city of Amman.
The Jordanian Tourism Board told the Times of London in January that the country remains safe for international travel: “In light of the recent developments in Gaza, we want to emphasize that Jordan continues to be a safe and welcoming destination for tourists from around the world,” the agency said in the statement. “Our commitment to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of all visitors remains unwavering and we want to reassure everyone that Jordan’s borders are open to tourists.”
Should you travel to Egypt right now?
Egypt's alert level from the State Department hasn’t changed since July 13, and remains at a “Level 3: Reconsider Travel.” Tourists should continue to avoid travel to the Sinai Peninsula, the land bordering Israel and Gaza and to the east of Cairo, as it is a “particularly dangerous area,” according to the department.
In a December 20 security reminder, the US Embassy in Cairo advised US travelers in Egypt to maintain situational awareness and personal security vigilance, exercise caution if unexpectedly in the vicinity of large gatherings or protests, and to keep a low profile.
Many group tours, like Red Savannah's, which visit sites like the Great Pyramids of Giza, the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, the Valley of the Kings, and Karnak Temple in Luxor, are continuing as normal. But even as many trips forge ahead, some operators are seeing significant cancellations. One firm in Egypt, Amisol Travel, has seen just 40 to 50% of its typical bookings from February and September 2024, according to the New York Times.
Nile River cruises are also continuing to operate as planned. The only changes at this time are cancellations of post-cruise land packages through Israel—most lines have removed these add-on tours for the near future.
“We continue to closely monitor the situation in Israel and Gaza and have canceled a select number of Jerusalem extensions for our Pharaohs & Pyramids itinerary,” says a January 11 statement on Viking’s website. “All of our departures in Egypt are operating as scheduled. Our top priority is the safety and wellbeing of our guests, crew and partners on the ground."
In recent months, AmaWaterways has been making similar cancellations of extended land tours through Israel. “Guests with the post-cruise Israel package scheduled to depart on Secrets of Egypt & the Nile itinerary starting in Cairo up to and including June 21, 2024 will be refunded for the Israel land portion as well as the Cairo to Tel Aviv airfare,” the line said in an emailed statement. “There are no other changes to any other Egypt river cruise or associated land packages.”
Despite most Nile itineraries continuing as planned, lines are seeing an uptick in cancellations from passengers. "The impact has been pretty severe, quite honestly, for the first quarter of 2024," Pamela Hoffee, president of Avalon Waterways, told Travel Weekly in early December. "Close to half of our guests canceled for the first quarter of 2024. The rest of the year has not seen as much impact."
Should you travel to Lebanon right now?
As of October 17, the US State Department has had a “Level 4: Do Not Travel” warning for Lebanon. The advisory was last updated on December 19 and recommends US citizens do not travel to the country “due to crime, terrorism, armed conflict, civil unrest, kidnapping, and Embassy Beirut’s limited capacity to provide support to US citizens."
The advisory "speaks to inherent dangers of the region and the lack of immediate emergency services if a traveler was in need of assistance from government agencies,” says Dennis.
Clashes between the Israeli military and the Hezbollah militants in Lebanon have continued at the countries’ borders for months. Now, it's appearing more likely that serious conflict could spread even farther into Lebanon. The head of Israel’s military, Chief of the General Staff Herzi Halevi, said on January 17 that the IDF is increasing readiness for “fighting in Lebanon,” CNN reported.
“The State Department recommends that US citizens in Lebanon leave now, while commercial flights remain available, due to the unpredictable security situation,” says a security alert from the US Embassy in Beirut issued on November 4. (At the time of publication, no new security alerts have been issued from the Embassy in Beirut since).
What's happening with cruises in the Red Sea?
Some cruise lines have begun canceling or changing itineraries that were set to transit through the Red Sea, due to the heightening conflicts there. According to Seatrade Cruise News, MSC has canceled three sailings that had stops through the Red Sea and Middle East: a March 30 voyage on MSC Virtuosa sailing from Dubai to Southampton, England; an April 3 sailing on MSC Splendida from Cape Town to Genoa, Italy; and an April 21 sailing on MSC Opera from Dubai to Genoa.
Silversea has also canceled an upcoming voyage aboard Silver Moon from Dubai to Mumbai that was slated to depart on January 26. “Affected guests and their travel agents have been informed of the reprotection options,” Silversea told Traveler in an emailed statement. “The voyage between Mumbai and Singapore, scheduled between Feb 11 and Feb 29, is currently scheduled to proceed as planned. Our global security team continues to closely monitor the situation in the region and will make any additional changes if required.”
Additional tips for considering travel to the region
1. Consider postponing instead of canceling
The standard guidance in the travel industry, even in harrowing situations, is that postponing a trip is usually a better option than canceling, if you can swing it. That way, local workers and/or travel businesses don't completely lose out on travelers' support, particularly at a time of need. “We highly recommend postponing, or rebooking to another region, over canceling all together,” says Matt Berna, president The Americas for Intrepid Travel. "More than ever the world needs intrepid travelers. We want travelers to do and see incredible things, and for those experiences to have positive social and economic impacts on the host communities they visit.”
One benefit for travelers post-pandemic is that the majority of operators now offer flexible changes and postponements. “Since COVID-19, we have seen a trend towards rebooking flexibility in the travel industry,” says Christina Tunnah, general manager Americas for travel insurance provider World Nomads. “Many US-based airlines retained the credit and rebooking policies from the peak of COVID-19. If you booked with a tour provider, contact customer service to understand what kind of policies may apply in this type of situation.”
Some tour companies allow cancellations within a certain window or will give a voucher toward a future trip if you’d like to postpone. “Should a client feel uncomfortable about traveling, we will always do our best to offer a postponement,” says Morgan-Greenville of Red Savannah.
Jerry Sorkin, a travel specialist with Iconic Journeys Worldwide, says his company gives customers the option to reschedule and apply 100% of their funds toward a future tour to the same destination, up until 30 days before their trip. (Travelers who want to cancel their trip within 30 days of their departure will have to rely on travel insurance for refunds.) “If they did not take out travel insurance, they did so at their own risk and signed a document when booking with us that they had declined to take out travel insurance,” Sorkin says. These types of cancellation policies are standard throughout the industry, which makes understanding travel insurance policies all the more important.
2. Purchase travel insurance
“We always recommend purchasing travel insurance as soon as you invest in your flights, accommodations, and other travel costs,” says Tunnah. “All policies are different, so be sure the policy you select offers the coverage you are most concerned with, such as trip cancellation or trip interruption. And always be sure to read your policy details.” For instance, trip cancellations due to war, invasion, or hostilities between nations are generally excluded from travel insurance policies, but some may offer coverage for terrorist incidents that occur in your departure or destination city, according to Tunnah. (World Nomads’ travel insurance policies for US residents offer trip cancellation coverage in the event a terrorist incident occurs within 30 days of the scheduled departure date, for instance.)
3. Reference international sources during research and consider traveling with a local tour operator
If you decide to go ahead with your trip, there are still precautions to take, too, and ways to be as informed as possible. “I always advocate for travelers to research the areas visited, purchase travel insurance, and talk to insurance providers about coverage and emergency support options should a need arise,” says Dennis, the risk management expert. “Some travel insurance policies won't cover regions listed as a Level 4 (Do Not Travel) government rating, so it's important to verify exemptions prior to travel." Dennis also suggests traveling with a reputable, locally experienced operator: "These organizations typically have deep connections with the communities they visit and are responsible for making itinerary adjustments based on local circumstances.”
In your research, try to include international media sources for the most holistic picture of what’s happening in the area. “It's important to seek out information from multiple sources to find a balanced understanding of regional safety and security,” Dennis says. “This may include reviewing US, UK, Canadian, and even Australian State Department travel warnings, local embassy updates, and if available, gaining access to information from professional security organizations. Each resource may have slight variations of information depending on the audience they serve, so it's important to gather as many perspectives as possible for a balanced approach.”
4. Have an emergency plan
As a precaution, US tourists on international trips should always sign up for the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive important safety alerts from the US embassy in the country they are visiting. Enrolling is free, only takes a few minutes, and will help the embassy contact you in the event of an emergency.
It’s also a good idea to make sure loved ones at home have key information about your travels. “Personally speaking, when I travel internationally, I always leave a copy of my itinerary, passport, and travel insurance policy with my family,” Dennis says. “I also make a check-in plan, so they know when to expect a call, text, or email.”
More than anything, making these difficult travel decisions is about building up a sense of personal intuition for what feels safe and enjoyable.
This article has been updated since its original publish date.
Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler