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".

 

Turkey concedes including Assad in Syria talks

Trump to be sworn in as 45th US president

IS demolishes two more monuments in Palmyra

Iran losing hope of saving trapped firefighters

More than 40 jihadists killed in north Syria air strikes

Netanyahu congratulates ‘friend’ Trump in tweet

Israel denounces Belgian plan to interrogate ex-minister

Denmark grants soldiers permission to fight IS in Syria

Car bomb near Benghazi mosque wounds 12

UN calls IS destruction of Palmyra relics ‘war crime’

Armed settlers rescued from angry Palestinian villagers

Petition filed for Israeli court to return body of Bedouin

29 Yemen rebels killed by Saudi-led air strikes

Algeria’s Islamist parties unite ahead of April elections

British worker dies on Qatar 2022 World Cup site

Search continues for trapped Iran firefighters

Trump to retain envoy to anti-IS coalition

More than 20 firefighters feared dead in Tehran building collapse

Explosions in Gaza target Fatah member

UN expert tells Saudi to end ban on women driving

Desalination plant opens in Gaza to tackle water crisis

Syria’s Assad hopes rebels disarm after Astana talks

UN says 400,000 Syrian child refugees in Turkey not in school

Libya PM skips Davos to focus on electricity crisis

Greece, Cyprus insist peace deal must include Turkish withdrawal

Mistura to lead UN delegation at Astana Syria talks

Turkey slams French satire song about Istanbul attack

Saudi minister says kingdom to become ‘softer’ after reforms

Bahrain lifts ban on electronic Al-Wasat newspaper

Arab Israelis strike in protest over house demolitions

Iran sees Syria talks as opportunity to gain influence

Kuwait upholds sentence for three royals for insulting judges

Tunisia facing mounting calls against jail-for-joint law

Iran's oldest high-rise building on fire collapses

IMF says Egypt on track for next aid tranche

Bahrain police disperse Shiite protesters

Key Syria rebel group opts out of Astana peace talks

Moroccan Sufi ‘living master’ dies at 95

France says Iraqi jihadist among 2015 stadium bombers

Russia, Turkey stage first joint air strikes against IS in Syria

IS advances on terrified citizens of Syria’s Deir Ezzor

In path to greater executive power, Erdogan faces weak Turkey economy

Switzerland drops war crimes case against former Algerian defence minister

Patience wears thin in Iraq's Fallujah

Iraq forces 'liberate' eastern Mosul