Tour operators are putting Turkey trips for American travelers on hold as a reciprocal visa suspension plays out between Ankara and Washington, a move that came just as Turkey's tourism industry was starting to get back on its feet.

"This decision is a massive step back for a country finally in the middle of a resurgence," said Leigh Barnes, North America director for Intrepid Group, which reports a 25% year-over-year increase in U.S. customers booking Turkey in 2017. "This decision seems to be quite political, while the reality is that local hoteliers, restaurateurs and other small tourism business owners will likely be impacted the most."

Intrepid operates 43 tours to Turkey across its four brands, and the company will continue to promote them to Canadian, Australian and European travelers.

Barnes added that Intrepid's destination management partner in Istanbul is "very optimistic this is only a temporary measure."

Ya'lla Tours USA is advising agents with Turkey bookings for travel in late 2017 and 2018 to take a wait-and-see approach.

"With Turkey being so dependent on tourism, this ridiculous situation should be resolved sooner rather than later," said Ya'lla president Ronen Paldi, adding that "if this would have not been so sad it could be a joke about how two egomaniac leaders ... act like two hormonal teenagers."

Paldi reported that Turkey had turned the corner from what he described as a "brutal year" and a "drastic fall of tourism." Ya'lla had invested heavily in marketing and travel agent education to reignite interest for Turkey, Paldi said, and the investment was starting to pay off: 2018 was looking to be Turkey's "year of the comeback."

Turkey's tourism trade took a heavy hit after several terror attacks in 2016 and the first days of 2017, including a nightclub shooting in Istanbul that killed 39 on Jan. 1.

Turkish Airlines offers refunds

Turkish Airlines is offering American passport holders refunds on tickets for flights to Turkey between Oct. 9 and Oct. 31. American customers can also make reservation and route changes for those dates free of charge. Individuals who have partially used their tickets can get refunds for the unused portions.

The refund and ticket change policies don't apply to Americans who are merely connecting in Istanbul en route to a destination outside of Turkey.

Turkish Airlines has not said if it plans to offer refunds to and free changes to ticket holders on U.S.-Istanbul flights after Oct. 31, should the diplomatic dispute linger beyond that date.

The carrier flies between Istanbul and nine U.S. destinations.

Cruise visitors don't need a visa

The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs says on its website that foreigners who are traveling to Turkey by cruise are allowed to enter without visa for a maximum period of 72 hours, with the permission given by the local security authorities.

A spokeswoman for Windstar Cruises, which calls at Kusadasi on a seven-day Greek Islands cruise, said that since the port is mid-cruise, guests are considered "in-transit" as they are not arriving by land or air and not staying more than 24 hours.
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Robert Silk and Tom Stieghorst contributed to this report, which was edited on Wednesday to add cruise information.

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