More young British people are travelling to far-flung destinations than ever, but are often unwittingly putting themselves in danger by flouting strict local laws.
A survey of more than 1,400 UK tourists aged 18-24 found that one in three are influenced by celebs when planning their holiday abroad. But a large majority – 72 per cent – do not bother to read up on the laws, customs and risks in their chosen destination.
Ahead of the Easter holidays, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is urging young holidaymakers to do more research, especially when heading for countries outside Europe, to avoid offending laws and cultural sensitivities.
The consular director, Julia Longbottom, said: “It’s great to see the British people being inspired to travel to new and exciting places. This makes it all the more important to follow our travel advice and respect local laws and customs.”
The latest ONS figures, for 2016, show sharp increases in British visitors to three non-EU countries.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) saw a rise of 17 per cent compared with a year earlier. Most tourists focused on Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Visitors last year included the British boxer Anthony Joshua and the Canadian singer Justin Bieber.
The UAE has some extremely strict laws, particularly on relationships and drugs.
“All sex outside marriage is illegal, irrespective of any relationship you may have with your partner in the UK,” warns the Foreign Office, adding that it is against the law “to share the same hotel room with someone of the opposite sex to whom you aren’t married or closely related”.
All homosexual sex is illegal; same-sex marriages are not recognised.
The FCO warns: “Possession of even the smallest amount of illegal drugs can lead to a minimum four-year jail sentence.
“The Emirati authorities count the presence of drugs in the bloodstream as possession.
“Passengers in transit through the UAE under the influence of alcohol may also be arrested.”
In addition, electronic cigarettes are banned.
Jack White, celebrity content director at Now magazine said: “We’ve all felt the pang of envy that comes from scrolling through a celebrity’s luxury holiday snaps on social media, but if you’re ever lucky enough to end up in Dubai or St Lucia it’s worth remembering different countries have different rules.
“There’s definitely nothing glamorous about ending up behind bars.”
Sri Lanka saw a 22 per cent surge in visitors, though a recent upsurge in unrest may impact future bookings. Same-sex relationships are illegal on the island, though the Foreign Office says it is unaware of any prosecutions for breaking this law.
Images of the Buddha are regarded as particularly sensitive in Sri Lanka. The Foreign Office says: “British nationals have been refused entry to Sri Lanka or faced deportation for having visible tattoos of Buddha.
“Don’t pose for photographs standing in front of a statue of Buddha.”
Ms Longbottom said: “We see many cases each year of people breaking local laws and customs. It is important that our travellers understand that the UK Government can’t give legal advice or get them out of prison.”
The sharpest increase in British tourism, 31 per cent, was to Canada, which is rather more culturally relaxed than many countries. But travellers keen to explore the great outdoors are warned: “Tornadoes can occur almost anywhere in Canada,” and: “Forest fires can break out at anytime, regardless of the season.”
The world’s second-largest country (after Russia) is also seismically active. Earthquakes Canada has recorded an average of 10 tremors a day over the past month.
Travellers entering Canada are obliged to declare handmade crafts, such as wooden items, upon arrival.
In Europe, Cyprus saw a 29 per cent rise in visitors in 2016 compared with a year earlier. Rio Ferdinand, Colleen Rooney and Denise van Outen are recent visitors to the island.
The FCO advises: “If you are caught with any type of narcotic you will receive either a prison sentence or a hefty fine.
“You may be fined if you drive without a seatbelt or ride a motorbike without a crash helmet. Heavy fines also apply if you use a mobile telephone or are under the influence of alcohol while driving.”