Turkish citizens voted to give the country’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, sweeping new powers in a national referendum held on April 16. The result means President Erdogan has the authority to scrap the role of the Prime Minister, dissolve parliament and stay in power until 2029 without an election if he so wishes – and has led many to accuse Turkey of becoming a kind of dictatorship. His party’s main opposition, CHP, said that granting him these new powers would "entrench dictatorship" in Turkey.
Tourism in Turkey has suffered numerous setbacks in the last two years in the wake of several high-profile terrorist attacks – some of which specifically targeted foreigners. Visitor numbers plunged from around 5.5 million in July 2015 to 3.5 million in the same month last year, and this latest political development may further dissuade holidaymakers.
For those going on holiday to Turkey or considering visiting the country, advice from industry experts varies. British tour operators like Thomas Cook take their cues from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). A Thomas Cook spokesman told The Independent: “The safety of our customers is always our first priority. The FCO advice for Turkey hasn’t changed following the recent referendum. We continually monitor travel advice from the FCO and encourage our customers to consult it before travel.”
ABTA, the regulatory body for travel companies in the UK, sends a similar message to consumers. “As always, ABTA advises that holidaymakers should check and follow the Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice,” a spokesperson told The Independent. “The advice for Turkey currently states that people should be vigilant, follow the advice of local security authorities, monitor media reports and keep up to date with travel advice.”
The FCO advice on Turkey fails to reference the referendum, though it does warn of political unrest. The FCO states on its website: “Sporadic demonstrations take place in cities across Turkey, some of which have, in the past, become violent. In Istanbul previous demonstrations have centered on the area around Taksim Square, on Istiklal Street and in the Besiktas and Kadikoy districts and more recently in Okmeydani. In Ankara, the protests have mainly taken place in the central Kizilay district around the Prime Minister’s office. In Izmir the focus has been in the town centre, near the water front.
“You should avoid all demonstrations and leave the area if one develops. Police have used tear gas and water cannon extensively to disperse protests.”
This latest political upheaval may have far-reaching implications for the tourist industry according to Frank Brehany, MD of consumer complaints website HolidayTravelWatch. He told The Independent: “The result of the Turkish Referendum may seem a far-off event in the minds of UK holidaymakers, but its contested result could offer further turmoil in the region. It is unclear at this time how the result will be challenged, if at all, and whether the very fabric of the relatively inclusive Turkish society will be subject to fundamental change through any new attitudes or laws on justice and law and order.
“For most holidaymakers heading to Turkey, they will most likely not feel an immediate effect within these resorts. However, as we have seen in recent years, the rise in numbers of terror attacks in and around popular Turkish tourist destinations has led to a fall in the number of European tourists making Turkey their destination of choice. It is also unclear how Turkey’s relationship will now develop with the EU and this could have an impact on the numbers of Middle-Eastern refugees passing through Turkey and on to other European destinations. All these actual or potential effects do nothing to help the Turkish tourist industry. And, in the minds of those involved in tourism, whether they be consumers or suppliers, there is no doubt that confidence in the industry is not helped by this latest political challenge.”
However, others are more optimistic about Turkey’s potential to recover its popularity as a tourist destination. Ted Wake, MD of Kirker Holidays, believes the threat in Turkey is echoed in much of Europe – and that travellers are simply getting more aware of the dangers.
“In common with other destinations such as Stockholm, Berlin, Paris, Nice, Brussels and indeed London, Istanbul has experienced some disruption in recent months,” he told The Independent. “However, those tourists who have visited Turkey and Istanbul report very favourably of the warm hospitality, excellent service and great value for money. Security and safety for tourists has always been an important factor, but experienced travellers have quickly become accustomed to the recent heightened awareness of these issues that now applies throughout the world – and for Western societies, the risk is often the same for those who elect to stay at home as it is for those who travel abroad.
“Many consumers take a pragmatic, defiant view and are now reluctant to allow the perceived threat to impact on their travel ambitions. And the more experienced the traveller, the more they appreciate that it is difficult to predict where the next disruption will occur.”
And indeed, it’s not all bad news for Turkish tourism. While bookings to Turkey for summer 2017 are currently down 18 per cent down year on year according to industry figures, ABTA has reported positive visitor numbers for the Easter period in Southern Turkey resorts.
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