Cruise passenger traffic to Turkey plunged in the first half
of the year as cruise lines dropped numerous calls to the country that last
year hosted 1.4 million cruise guests.
Turkey is on pace to reach about half of that number in
2016, recording only 398,272 foreign arrivals by sea from January to June. The
second half of the year is expected to be weaker than the first because nearly
all cruise lines canceled calls to Turkey in July after the failed coup attempt
by factions of the military.
Holland America Line said earlier this month that it would cancel the
remainder of its scheduled calls this year, affecting six cruises in September and
October that would have stopped at Istanbul or Kusadasi, or both.
In making that decision, HAL said the “safety of our
passengers and crew is our top priority.”
In addition to the coup attempt, Turkey is battling Kurdish
separatists in the eastern part of the country and Islamic State radicals in
Syria. Istanbul has seen several terrorist attacks, most recently at the
airport in June when 45 people were killed.
The instability in Turkey is casting a shadow over the
eastern Mediterranean as a cruise destination in general, where an influx of
refugees and economic strife in Greece had already hurt demand in recent years.
Some cruise analysts said avoidance of the region could abate if there is
relative calm for a few months.
“My view is that it’s symptomatic of what happened this
year, and I think it will all bounce back in the Med,” said Maurice Zarmati,
former president of Costa Cruises in North America. “I think the process is
more difficult when it happens in a Middle Eastern country than when it happens
in a non-Middle Eastern country, but overall I think the Med will bounce back.”
Until this year, cruise business to Turkey had been growing.
Passenger traffic advanced 19.8% from 2010 to 2015, and Turkey was the
Mediterranean’s fifth most visited cruise destination, behind Spain, France, Italy
Istanbul also ranks No. 9 in the Mediterranean as a cruise
turnaround port, behind only Piraeus (the port closest to Athens) in the
eastern area, according to MedCruise, an association of ports in the region.
And Kusadasi, as the gateway to the ancient Greek
ruins at Ephesus, attracted 567,291 transit cruise passengers last year, which
put it in the top 20 Mediterranean ports.
Turkey is trying to keep cruise lines apprised of changing
conditions, said Murat Karakus, director of the Turkish Culture and Tourism
office in New York.
“We had some meetings with cruise line companies and CLIA
and the Miami Port Authority,” he said. “It was not an easy decision for them
to step away from Turkey.”
Karakus said there are a few cruise lines still calling in Kusadasi.
He said his office plans to attend the Seatrade convention in Fort Lauderdale
next spring and is looking for a time when there is an “appropriate atmosphere”
for a new initiative.
Turkey’s misfortune may have contributed to an upswing in
cruise tourism in Greece, at least temporarily. The Piraeus Port Authority
reported that from January to July, cruise passenger arrivals are up 18.5%,
representing an additional 150,000 passengers from the year before. When cruise companies cancel Turkish port calls, Greek ports
are often substituted.
But according to Greek media reports, the Greek Association
of Cruise Shipowners and Associated Members warned earlier this month that international
cruise companies had canceled 138 stops at Greek destinations for the next couple
of years, a loss of 330,000 visitors.
The 2,850-passenger Celebrity Equinox, for example, had been
scheduled to sail in the Med next summer but will move to the Caribbean
However, Theodoros Kontes, president of the association, was
quoted as saying that “it is too early to reach any conclusions.”