Turkey’s tourism and recreation industry struggles after months of terror attacks
Rows of beach chairs in pastel blue and white stripes sit unused by the hundreds, the sun-umbrellas next to many closed tight.
A lone jet ski rider skims across the water. Signs advertise paragliding excursions and white-water rafting adventures.
Yet, barely anyone is there to see any of it.
Along Turkey’s western tourism trail — secluded inlets tucked into mountain ranges, sprawling white beaches, late-night discos and restaurants and bars — one thing is noticeably absent: tourists.
The country’s important tourism sector is reeling, with the numbers of visitors plummeting as the government’s foreign policy alienates important allies and terrorist attacks assail the country’s touristic infrastructure.
Eren Ergul was sitting Wednesday at a deserted booth where he’s supposed to hawk scuba diving and canyoning packages to tourists. His company is lucky to get 10 customers daily, he said.
“We used to sell packages to 80 or 90 people — sometimes more than 100 — per day,” said Ergul, 26, who blamed the loss of business on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s approach to international affairs.
“He needs to be friendlier to other countries and not attack everyone all the time,” said Ergul.
Many observers say the country, a U.S. ally, has been largely in international isolation.
In May, the country’s tourism sector slumped 35% compared with the same month the previous year. Tourist arrivals have fallen for 10 months straight, with each month revealing a steeper plunge. About 5.8 million tourists visited the country during the year’s first four months, a drop of 16%, according to the Turkish Statistical Institute.
Losses are expected to exceed some $15 billion this year, said Murat Ersoy, head of the Tourism Investors Association (TYD), said during a news conference this month.
Over the last five years, Turkish foreign policy has strayed far beyond its traditional parameters. Erdogan has sought to cast himself as a global Islamic leader and regain Turkish primacy in former Ottoman lands.
Relations suffered with several countries and Erdogan agitated for government change in Syria, tolerating a mounting Salafi jihadist presence on Turkey’s southern flanks. Those insurgents have taken the opportunity to establish potent cells throughout Turkey and have staged numerous attacks on Turkish soil.
On Tuesday, three attackers sprayed gunfire at Istanbul Ataturk Airport and detonated their suicide vests, killing at least 42 people and injuring more than 230.
Workers clean the debris from Tuesday’s attack at Turkey’s largest airport on Wednesday.(Defne Karadeniz / Getty Images)
Travelers walk around damaged areas of the international terminal at Ataturk Airport on Wednesday after Tuesday’s attack in Istanbul, Turkey.(Defne Karadeniz / Getty Images)
A window cracked by a bullet in Tuesday’s attack at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport.(Gokhan Tan / Getty Images)
A worker cleans blood stains on the ceiling of the international departure terminal at the country’s largest airport, Istanbul Ataturk, following Tuesday’s attack in Istanbul, Turkey.(Gokhan Tan / Getty Images)
Taxi driver Mustafa Biyikli, who died in Tuesday’s airport attack, is buried on Wednesday in Istanbul, Turkey.(Defne Karadeniz / Getty Images)
A woman assists a mother who lost a relative, outside a forensic medicine building close to Istanbul’s airport on June 29.(Bulent Kilic / AFP/Getty Images)
Passengers embrace outside Istanbul’s Ataturk airport after being evacuated following a blast.(Emrah Gurel / Associated Press)
Children and their relatives embrace as they leave Ataturk airport in Istanbul.(Ozan Kose / AFP/Getty Images)
Forensic police work at the site of an explosion at Ataturk airport in Istanbul.(Ozan Kose / AFP/Getty Images)
One of the many wounded is taken to a hospital after the attack at Ataturk airport.(Deniz Toprak / EPA)
Forensic police work at the scene of a blast outside Istanbul’s Ataturk airport.(Emrah Gurel / Associated Press)
Forensic police work at the Ataturk airport explosion site.(Ozan Kose / AFP / Getty Images)
The injured lie on the ground next to a terminal at Ataturk airport.(Ilhas News Agency / AFP/Getty Images)
Forensic police work the explosion site at Ataturk airport.(Ozan Kose / AFP/Getty Images)
Travelers wait outside the airport after the deadly attack.(Ozan Kose / AFP/Getty Images)
Travelers who survived from the suicide bomb attack cry as they leave the Turkey’s largest airport, Istanbul Ataturk, on Tuesday.(Gokhan Tan / Getty Images)
Ambulances line up as police set up a perimeter after two explosions rocked Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport.(AFP/Getty Images)
Crime scene investigators go to work after an attack at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul.(Sedat Suna / EPA)
Police investigators look for evidence at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul.(Sedat Suna / EPA)
Crime scene investigators work next to a victim killed in the boming at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul.(Sedat Suna / EPA)
Ambulances parked outside Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport on Tuesday.(Emrah Gurel / Associated Press)
- Passengers wait outside Ataturk Airport in Istanbul after Tuesday’s attack.
Turkish special forces troops help secure the area after a bombing at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul.(Sedat Suna / EPA)
Passengers leave Ataturk Airport in Istanbul after the attack.(OZAN KOSE / AFP/Getty Images)
A man carries his daughter as passengers leave Ataturk Airport.(Ozan Kose / AFP/Getty Images)
Passengers were moved outside and vehicle traffic blocked after a bomb attack at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul.(Sedat Suna / EPA)
This week, Turkey and Israel unveiled a deal to normalize diplomatic relations after years of dispute over Israel’s blockade of Gaza and Erdogan’s support for the militant group Hamas.
Turkey and Russia said they had also reached a reconciliation over Ankara’s downing of a Russian jet last year. Russian arrivals plummeted 98% after that incident, with Moscow imposing a ban on charter flights to Turkey.
“Erdogan’s foreign policy has been an unmitigated disaster for Turkey, but his autocratic domestic tendencies at home have also led to alienation,” said Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank.
“Once one of President Obama’s favorite world leaders, Erdogan is now getting the cold shoulder from Obama because of his deliberate decisions to erode Turkey’s democratic institutions, his strongman tactics in quelling domestic dissent, and the disastrous series of decisions he has made in dealing with Syria.” Schanzer said.
Analysts and residents said the impressions left at home and abroad are bound to influence tourism.
In one restaurant just off Alanya’s main beach, 10 wait staff attended to two tourists at peak time, one recent evening. The rest of the restaurant was empty.
The manager, Aziz Yilmaz, who has worked in tourism for 23 years, said he had never seen the sector hurting this much.
“The country breathes because of tourists, we can’t lose them,” Aziz said.
“We have closed one of our three hotels this season,” Selam said. “Our occupancy is down to around 50%.”
She said that they would have to rely on bumper domestic tourism following the month of Ramadan to limit the damage this season.
Schanzer said Turkey needs to mend fences around the region and the world to help many problems, including the hurting tourism industry.
“It needs more friends,” he said, “not more enemies.”
Johnson is a special correspondent.
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