Turkey tourism in wait-and-see mode after attack in Istanbul

The Blue Mosque, one of the top attractions in Istanbul, was near the site of a suicide bombing.
The Blue Mosque, one of the top attractions in Istanbul, was near the site of a suicide bombing.

In the wake of last month’s deadly suicide attack in the heart of Istanbul, tour operators and the country’s tourism representatives remained hopeful for a quick recovery despite the impact from several cruise lines pulling back their Turkey port calls.

“Turkey is a very important and popular destination for us,” said Leigh Barnes, vice president, North America for Intrepid Travel. “We did cancel our scheduled day tour departures in Istanbul immediately following the attack. We are planning to resume day tours on Feb. 1 if travelers are keen to book.”

Intrepid operates 16 multiday tour itineraries in Turkey and offers an additional six day tours of Istanbul under its city and day tour brand, Urban Adventures. Intrepid said it is currently off-season in Turkey, so the longer, multiday tour departures are not scheduled to begin again until March. And despite the attack, the company is still expecting to take a few thousand customers on Turkey trips in 2016, similar to the number of people it brought to the destination in 2015.

“To be honest, the attack in Istanbul is an incomparable tragedy,” said Canan Karaarslan, marketing and product manager for Istanbul-based ground operator Fez Travel. “But if such a cowardly attack convinces people not to visit Istanbul, that will be another tragedy.”

Karaarslan said that there’s “no doubt” that the incident will impact the number of travelers visiting the country. With over 40 million annual visitors, Turkey ranks among the top 10 most visited countries in the world.

But, she added, “We feel that Istanbul is no less safe than Paris or any of the other European capitals.”

On Jan. 12, a suicide bomber believed to be linked to the Islamic State killed 10 people, predominantly German tourists, and injured several others in an attack near the Blue Mosque, a popular tourist attraction.

Gorkem Karakus, director of the Turkish Tourist Office in Washington said that Turkey is working with its allies “to fight against the terror” and is confident the country’s once-thriving tourism industry will rebound this year.

But that rebound was made less certain when several cruise lines canceled calls in Turkey following the attack, including Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, which said it was canceling calls in Turkey for the remainder of 2016 for all three of its brands.

Crystal canceled Turkish calls on two cruises this spring in favor of Greece, and MSC Cruises said its MSC Magnifica wouldn’t call in Turkey until further notice.

While the Turkey cruise cancellations are significant, cruise passengers only represent about 1% of Turkey’s total visitors, according to numbers provided by the Turkish Tourist Office. Karakus said that in 2015 Turkey welcomed just slightly less than 41 million travelers and that of those travelers, approximately 400,000 were cruise passengers. 

Tom Stieghorst contributed to this report.

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