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Mideast tourism to Turkey down after string of terror attacks

Turkey remains one of the top destinations for Muslim travelers due to its rich culture and history. (Reuters)

JEDDAH: Turkey’s tourism sector has been hit hard by the string of terror attacks across the country, with the number of flight reservations from the Middle East for early 2017 down an estimated 16 percent.
The nightclub shooting rampage in Istanbul, in which 39 people were killed, is the latest of several Daesh-linked attacks in the country.
The UAE on Monday warned its citizens against traveling to Turkey in the wake of the New Year’s Day attack.
Olivier Jager, chief executive of travel intelligence firm ForwardKeys, said that terror attacks are having an impact on wider Middle Eastern tourism to Turkey.
“Tourism to both Istanbul and Turkey as a whole have suffered from repeated terrorist attacks in 2016,” he said.
ForwardKeys, which is based in Valencia, analyzes 16 million flight-reservation transactions a day.
Its data show that arrivals to Turkey by air during the past year fell by 21 percent. Travelers from the Middle East had been “less deterred”, with arrivals down 6 percent, Jager said.
But the picture is looking different when it comes to forward bookings for travel to Istanbul and Turkey over the first three months of 2017.
Middle East forward bookings are 18 percent behind for Istanbul and 16 percent lower for Turkey as a whole, implying that more people are choosing to stay away. The global average is down by 22 percent. Tourism authorities in Turkey did not respond to a request for comment by Arab News.
“We know that terrorist attacks deter tourists, but tourism recovers over time. However, repeated attacks push back a possible recovery period,” Jager told Arab News.
“Unfortunately for Turkey, the New Year’s Eve nightclub attack is likely to continue to fuel concerns about the safety of the destination.”
Jager cautioned that the outlook may not be as negative as the figures suggest, as there “is a general trend towards booking later and particularly so after a terrorist incident”.
“It might take a week or so before we are able to fully size the real impact of this attack on inbound travel to Turkey,” he said.
Twenty-five of those killed at the Reina nightclub on the shores of the Bosphorus were foreigners, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.
They included nationals of Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Morocco, Libya, Israel, India, Canada, a Turkish-Belgian dual citizen and a Franco-Tunisian woman.
Fazal Bahardeen, the chief executive of CrescentRating — an authority on halal-friendly travel — said such incidents are bound to have an impact in the short- to medium-term.
“Safety is the single most (important) consideration of especially family leisure travelers,” he said.
“Having said that, Turkey remains one of the top destinations for Muslim travelers due to its rich culture and history,” he added.
“As such Turkey, while improving its security issues, needs to look at ways to promote to diverse markets including a much concerted effort to lure the Muslim travel market. The Muslim travelers will be one of the markets that they can rely on to quickly turn around as the security concerns decrease.”
Rafi-uddin Shikoh, the New York-based chief executive and managing director of DinarStandard, a research and advisory firm that covers Muslim tourism and Islamic finance, pointed to the latest official tourism data, prior to the recent attacks, which was already showing a decline in tourists to Turkey.
But Turkey’s ability to cater for Muslim travelers, as measured in rankings, is actually on the rise, he added.
“Our latest analysis... showed a dip in Muslim tourists to Turkey, however Turkey’s ranking in the Muslim travel market strengthened. In the latest Halal Travel Indicator of The State of the Global Islamic Economy (SGIE) Report, Turkey’s ranking improved even as the actual number of Muslim tourists to Turkey had decreased.”
HalalBooking.com, which was founded in 2009 and is based in Reading in the UK, says that it is seeing more bookings for travel to Turkey.
Ufuk Seçgin, the chief marketing officer of HalalBooking.com, acknowledged it was a “difficult year” for general tourism to Turkey, given issues like the Syrian crisis and coup attempt. But he said that the halal-friendly tourism segment had fared better.
“At HalalBooking.com we doubled our revenue,” he said, in reference to 2016 business. He estimates that about 90 percent of the company’s bookings are to Turkish beach resorts.
“Our customers are more resilient, they can distinguish… which parts of Turkey are affected and which are not affected. And they are not scare-mongered like the general public.”
Seçgin said it was difficult to say what the fallout from the Istanbul attack would be on the tourism industry as a whole.
“The whole tourist sector is obviously very nervous, because we don’t know what the impact will be,” he said.

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