Tourism experts believe that the majority of the country is still safe for tourists to visit. // © 2016 Creative Commons user pedrosz
Feature image (above): Istanbul’s airport was the target of a recent terrorist attack, but much of its city life continues as normal. // © 2016 Creative Commons user pedrosz
Turkey has had a hard year. One of Europe’s most beautiful and beloved destinations has been rocked by terrorist bombings in various cities across the country, as well as the bombing of Istanbul Ataturk Airport and an attempted coup. Not to mention, Turkey shares its eastern border with Syria, which already leaves the country as a question mark with the international community.
We chatted with a few destination experts, who shed light on the state of Turkey for the rest of this year and for 2017.
The Current State
“Turkey has had it rough since the beginning of the year,” said Ronen Paldi, president of Ya’lla Tours USA. “What we are seeing is that people with previously made reservations are proceeding with their plans. But we have an almost total hold for new bookings. We only have a dozen bookings for next year, where usually at this time we have eight to 10 times more than that.”
But, Paldi says, while Turkey has had a difficult time this year, the question of safety remains in the perception of the passenger, especially with respect to travel to Istanbul and other destinations in the western part of the country.
“Istanbul is a city with 21 million inhabitants,” he said. “It’s bigger than most American states. Life continues as normal, and tourists that visit Turkey experience that normality.”
That’s not to diminish the very real tragedies that have occurred. And even Paldi warns against travel to the eastern part of Turkey, where the geography and proximity to ISIS poses problems and conflicts. But Paldi encourages travelers to go to the rest of the country.
“What has happened in Turkey — from the airport attack to the attacks in the cities — is very sad, but it has nothing to do with the daily life in Turkey, let alone with the tourists that visit,” he said. “If you’re looking for an absolute worry-free way to travel, do what Howard Hughes did in Vegas and stay in your hotel room for 20 years. But we want to travel, and we should travel.”
Mina Agnos, president of Travelive in Boca Raton, Fla., also believes that Turkey is still a safe and viable destination for tourists and has not experienced much backlash from worried travelers.
“We haven’t had any new cancellations for Turkey,” she said. “In fact, I had some guests traveling earlier this month who just now returned home reporting that it was a great experience and uneventful in terms of security.”
But, like Paldi, Agnos has seen requests for Turkey slow to a trickle, and she has noticed a drop-off in interest.
“It’s hard to know what will happen, because this is the first time I’ve dealt with this kind of situation,” she said. “I know all of our partners on the ground have been doing everything they can to ensure business is as usual. We haven't had anyone personally affected by any of the situations. I’m not actively pushing Turkey, but if we have someone interested, we aren't going to dissuade them from going. But we make sure they have an understanding of what the world is right now.”
Earl Starkey, a travel agent with Protravel International and a top authority on Turkey travel, has also experienced a major decline in selling Turkey.
“Our business in Turkey was down 80 percent this year due to the various terrorist incidents,” he said. “After the bombings at the airport and then the failed coup with the state of emergency in place, all of our bookings for 2016 were canceled.”
As with any major international incident, the drop-off is usually immediate and temporary. But with so many incidents that have happened in Turkey this year alone, the question is: What remains for the future?
“Generally, we see events like this start to rebound after about six months,” Agnos said. “As long as there are no new events, the fall will be business as usual with Turkey.”
Starkey echoes this sentiment.
“At the moment, things are back to normal in Turkey,” he said. “I believe that if we can have six months of no further incidents, we may have a better year next year, and people will return.”
Paldi also agrees that the country just needs time to bounce back.
“A tremendous amount of new hotels are being built in Istanbul,” he said. “This is not something that started yesterday, nor is it something that will stop tomorrow. These are long-term plans that the ministry of tourism has, and they have a tremendous amount of confidence in the destination. There will be a major decline [in tourists] in 2016, but Turkey will come back, and those who have enough patience, and enough strength and confidence in the destination, will be the ones who benefit when tourism comes back.”