Thomas Cook has said it is repatriating all of its UK customers staying in Tunisia as a precautionary measure following the civil disturbances that have resulted in the deaths of at least 23 people.
The company has also cancelled its next scheduled departures to Tunisia, which would have taken place on Sunday 16 January.
It said it was “strongly advising” its 1,800 holidaymakers from the UK and Ireland currently in Tunisia to take up the offer of return flights on Friday.
Thomas Cook said in a statement: “Although there has been no specific problems for our holidaymakers, their well-being is our primary concern so, as a precaution, we’ve taken the decision to bring them back to the UK as soon as we can, using our fleet of aircraft today.”
TUI Travel’s German unit is deploying a similar policy, citing changed security guidelines by Germany’s Foreign Ministry.
Lufthansa has cancelled its night flights from Frankfurt to Tunis because of the overnight curfews, and plans to use larger planes on its two weekend flights to accommodate as many passengers as possible, he said.
Air France has also “adapted its timetable to the curfew” in force in the Tunisian capital.
(Protestors are calling for the resignation of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who has been in power for 23 years)
On Thursday, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office changed its guidance for Tunisia and is now advising against all but essential travel to the north African country.
“The situation is unpredictable and there is the potential for violence to flare up,” its website warns.
“British nationals in Tunisia should monitor the news or stay in touch with your tour operator.”
France, the former colonial power in Tunisia, asked its citizens to exercise caution and avoid all demonstrations, according to a statement on its Foreign Ministry’s website.
Thousands of demonstrators have gathered in the centre of the capital to call for the president, President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, to vacate office immediately.
The action follows weeks of protests across the country over corruption, unemployment levels and high food prices.
Tourism is Tunisia’s principal source of foreign-currency income and contributes more than 12 percent of GDP, the government said last year. The country is seeking to attract 10 million tourists by 2014, compared with 6.6 million in 2009.