First Published: 2017-01-12

Tourism in Istanbul reels after attacks
Slew of deadly attacks in 2016 has seen number of tourists to Turkey plummet, with many hotels suffering and some closing their doors for good.
Middle East Online

'The heart of the problem is that terrorist attacks do not stop'

ISTANBUL - Yavuz Indere has worked as a hotel receptionist in Istanbul for nearly half a century, witnessing coups, unrest and economic crises.

But as a string of terror attacks erodes the backbone of Turkey's key tourism sector, Indere admits he has never seen anything like this in the city.

"I've been doing this job for 45 years, obviously I've had tough years, but this time it was different," he said at his tiny hotel in the historic Sultanahmet area, the scene of a deadly attack on January 12 last year that rocked the tourism industry.

Exactly a year on from the bombing blamed on Islamic State (IS) jihadists which killed 12 German tourists in the heart of the city, many hotels are suffering, and some have closed their doors for good.

That attack was followed by a slew of strikes blamed on IS and Kurdish militants that killed hundreds in Turkey in 2016, capped by the gunning down of 39 revellers at Istanbul's glamourous Reina nightclub by a suspected jihadist on New Year's night.

"The heart of the problem is that terrorist attacks do not stop. People who go to visit a country want a guarantee ... I understand them, it is a human reflex," Indere said.

- 'Heart of tourism' -

The number of foreign tourists visiting Istanbul, with its historic mosques and Ottoman palaces, dropped to 9.2 million in 2016, a 26-percent decline on the previous year, tourism ministry statistics show.

The biggest number were Europeans, with 3.9 million of them descending on the vibrant metropolis, followed by 2.3 million tourists from the Middle East.

Over 10 percent of visitors were German, followed by Iranians (7 percent), Saudi Arabians (5.2 percent), British and French tourists (4 and 3.9 percent respectively), Americans (3.5 percent) and Russians (3.2 percent).

Tourists from Arab countries were down by 22 percent compared with 2015, the figures show.

Tourists can still be spotted on Sultanahmet -- home to sights including the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia -- but there is no sign of the crowds that once thronged the area and souvenir sellers look forlornly at their stalls.

The Sultanahmet attack was followed by another one on the busy Istiklal shopping street last March, which left three Israelis and an Iranian dead.

A gun and bomb attack on the city's Ataturk airport in June slaughtered 47 people, including 19 foreigners.

Then on July 15, a failed coup attempt left dozens dead in Istanbul alone while a December double bombing near the Besiktas football stadium claimed by Kurdish militants killed 46 people.

"The airport was attacked, Sultanahmet was attacked, then Taksim was attacked, and finally the Reina (nightclub), which for me is an attack on the heart of tourism," said Cetin Gurcun, secretary general of the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TURSAB).

The country as a whole has paid a steep price: while 42 million people visited Turkey in 2015, some 12 million fewer travelled there in 2016, Gurcun said.

"In foreign currency terms, revenues amounted to 31.6 billion dollars in 2015, and we had a fall of almost 10 billion dollars in 2016," he added.

In 2015 tourism accounted for 4.4 percent of Turkey's gross domestic product (GDP), according to the latest figures available.

- 'Can't let terrorists win'-

Adding to the tensions, the search continues for an IS-claimed jihadist who rampaged through the Reina nightclub in the early hours of 2017, shooting revellers, including Arab and European tourists, before escaping.

"It does worry me but you know, if you do not come, then you let the terrorists win," said John Plas, a tourist from the Netherlands.

Noemie Deveaux from France said the only way to cope was to banish all thoughts of potential attacks from her mind while visiting Istanbul. "Otherwise it is unbearable," she said.

Security measures have been heightened in the wake of the attacks, with heavily armed police patrolling streets.

Tourist guide Umran Aslan said it helped make her feel safer: "They're trying to protect us. I feel better when I see police everywhere".

But she admitted it was unlikely to reassure tourists. "it's so sad, because I love my job".

 

Arab leaders reject 'foreign interference' in their affairs

UN chief in Baghdad to review aid efforts

Lebanese PM Hariri visits Saudi Arabia

Turkey says military operation in northern Syria over

Palestinian pints divide Israeli pub

Rush hour on Mosul's 'displacement highway'

Palestinians commemorate ‘Land Day’

Qatar Airways to offer free laptops on US flights

American-Israeli teen arrested for US bomb threats 'has tumour'

Netanyahu vows to move ahead on new settlement plan

Tillerson says Assad’s fate up to Syrian people

Number of Syrian refugees tops five million says UN

Deal struck in Israeli row over public broadcaster

Palestinian NGOs urge Hamas to reopen border

Austria issues Turkey travel warning

US Secretary of State Tillerson in Ankara for talks

Jailed leader of pro-Kurd party to start hunger strike in Turkey

IS truck bomb kills at least 14 at Baghdad checkpoint

Iran says Arabs should focus on Zionist, not Iranian, meddling

Israel cuts $2-million contribution to UN

Israeli police shoot dead Palestinian woman armed with scissors

Bahrain sentences two to death for police bombing

Boat from Libya capsizes in Med, 146 migrants feared missing

Saudi police kill 2 gunmen during raid in Shiite-majority town

Over 60,000 S.Sudanese flee to Sudan in last three months

Bus bombing hits Syria's Homs, five dead

CAF chief Ahmad backs Morocco 2026 World Cup bid

US arrests Turkish banker for helping Iran violate sanctions

Turkey voices opposition to Kurdish flag in Kirkuk

Engineers to carry out urgent maintenance on IS-held Syria dam

Palestinian president meets Trump envoy at Arab summit

4 besieged Syria towns to be evacuated under deal

Arab leaders meet in Sweimeh on conflicts, 'terror'

No unanimity on Syria ahead of Arab Summit

UN says over 300 civilians killed since start of west Mosul offensive

Disputed Iraqi province votes to fly Kurdish flag

Germany laments Turkey's 'unacceptable' spying

Syria opposition says no peace deal without US role

Turkey sends delegation to UK over electronics ban

UN chief urges Arab leaders to confront Syria war

Carlos the Jackal sentenced to life for Paris bombing

Arab League set to oppose Trump Israel embassy shift

Tributes flood in for anti-apartheid hero Ahmed Kathrada

US vows to never allow 'Israel-bashing' at UN

Netanyahu ban on MP visits to flashpoint holy site challenged