Turkey tourism decimated by string of deadly events

The Blue Mosque, a top tourist attraction in Istanbul.
The Blue Mosque, a top tourist attraction in Istanbul.

U.S. citizens’ interest in traveling to Turkey was already low following the Ataturk Airport attack in Istanbul last month, and the failed military coup last week appears to have erased most dwindling desires to visit the country in the coming weeks.

“It’s a country that, at any moment, could go one way or the other,” said Petros Zissimos, managing director of Hellenic Holidays. “You can never say that your trip is going to be stable when you’re there. There’s always something that may happen. It doesn’t have the stability of other European destinations.”

Petros Zissimos
Petros Zissimos

Incidents occurring earlier this year — like the January bombing near the Blue Mosque and a March car bombing in Ankara — were causing some reluctance among travelers, but many were not canceling their plans, according to Mina Agnos, president of Travelive.

But the Ataturk Airport attack did result in “a number of guests” canceling their trips to Turkey, she said, instead opting for other European cities like Athens, Barcelona and Rome.

“With the coup attempt, I see that the remaining guests who opted to stick with Turkey are now requesting a change of plans and extending their stays in Greece,” Agnos said.

She said there likely won’t be a “huge comeback” during this year’s popular season for travel to Turkey, which runs from April to October. However, she still has one party slated to visit Turkey later this month that had not canceled their plans as of Monday afternoon.

Christos Stergiou, founder and CEO of TrueTurkey (organized under parent company TrueGreece), has noticed a similar trend.

“After the Ataturk attack, we basically just saw most of our bookings get canceled, and after the coup d’etat attempt, we had the remaining trips get canceled,” he said.

Mina Agnos
Mina Agnos

Neither Stergiou nor Agnos had clients in Istanbul when the attempted coup was taking place, but Zissimos said he had several.

“They basically were on lockdown,” he said, congregating with other travelers in hotel bars to watch some of the situation unfold on television. They were able to communicate with him via messaging application WhatsApp over WiFi, and Zissimos got them home Monday.

Agents are reluctant to send Americans to Turkey at the moment.

“It’s always been a really popular, American-friendly destination, but at the same time I think there’s just a lot of factors, and it’s just shaken a lot of people up,” said Agnos. “So I’m a little more hesitant to say, ‘Go.’”

Zissimos said the State Department’s travel warning issued for Turkey is something to heed.

“They obviously have more powerful boots on the ground than I do,” he said. “Sending somebody on vacation is one thing. Sending them in harm’s way is another.”

The latest travel warning advises U.S. citizens to “reconsider travel to Turkey at this time.” 

Christos Stergiou
Christos Stergiou

“In light of the July 15 coup attempt and the resulting potential for interruptions to travel and daily life, we suggest U.S. citizens reconsider travel to Turkey at this time,” the State Department said.

The events in Turkey have taken their toll on agents’ business. Zissimos estimated Turkey bookings were down “close to 80% this year.”

“We had a double-digit share in terms of our company’s revenue in Turkey that has evaporated,” said Stergiou.

Barring future incidents, all expressed confidence that the market would rebound.

“Will Turkey bounce back? Yes, certainly so,” Stergiou said. “The question is when.”

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