More than 2.5 million Brits visit Turkey each year. However, last year UK visitor numbers dropped by around 30% due to ongoing safety concerns in the country and the failed coup attempt in July. Falling visitor numbers have alarmed tourism officials and driven hotel prices down to entice more tourists this year.
But are the concerns about Turkey’s safety justified? Let’s examine the facts.
Why holiday in Turkey?
Turkey’s a huge country, straddling Europe and Asia. It’s full of beautiful landscapes, has an enviable culinary heritage and rich cultural history. People are friendly, prices and low, and the weather is great. Attractions as diverse as the ancient city of Ephesus to the beautiful Oludeniz Beach attracted 30 million visitors in 2015.
Is it safe to travel to Turkey in 2017?
The drop in visitor numbers is due to concern about the ongoing war in Syria, and Turkey’s internal security. In the last year a number of attacks have taken place, the majority against local people. It’s a tough call for visitors, especially as there is not a single enemy: attacks have been carried out by ISIS, Kurdish separatists and two far-left political factions.
“No destination can 100% be considered safe”, says Property Turkey director Cameron Deggin, who lives and works in Turkey. “But my view regarding Turkey’s tourist areas, is that the risk of harm is low - low enough to holiday there without fear.”
Proximity to Syria shouldn’t be a concern for tourists, Deggin says. “The Eastern Mediterranean has certainly been in the headlines. However, the places that most tourists visit are far from the Syrian border, and the Turkish army has made the border extremely secure. There is no way problems at the border will impact Turkey’s resorts.”
Where is safe to visit in Turkey in 2017?
In short: almost everywhere.
The UK Foreign Office advises against travel to within ten kilometres of the border with Syria, and the the regions of Sirnak, Mardin, Sanliurfa, Gaziantep, Diyarbakir, Kilis and Hatay. These are far from holiday resorts and the well-trodden tourist sites in Turkey.
Regarding Istanbul, the FCO has warned British visitors of “ongoing police operation” in the city, and advised visitors to “exercise vigilance and caution … and follow the advice and instruction of the security authorities.”
What if I’ve already booked my holiday to Turkey?
“Look forward to it, and enjoy it,” emphasises Deggin. “The chances are high that you’ll have a fantastic trip.”
He adds that tourists will get an especially warm welcome this year. “Numbers are down, and because so many Turks living in the southern Mediterranean rely on tourists for their income, most tourist resorts will be welcoming visitors with open arms.”
“Some of our friends have asked us if we’ll go to Turkey as usual this year and our answer is ‘of course!’” says the 52-year-old.
“I think it’s different when you know the area, and the people. A lot of it is unfamiliarity: people who haven’t visited Turkey and don’t know the culture - or the fact that the country is huge. I don’t think there’s been the same hesitation about visiting France, for example. We’re as safe in Turkey as we are anywhere else right now”
Janet says her two teenage children, aged 15 and 17, are also looking forward to the trip. “We’ve talked about the situation in Turkey and they are comfortable with the idea of going. This will be their tenth summer so the children consider their Side villa to be a second home, somewhere they’ve grown up.”
Another motivation to visit is helping the local economy. “We’ve become friends with people in the area, and I know they’ll be hard hit by the fall in visitor numbers over the last year or so. It’s just a way of helping out, even if it’s a little.”
“Turkey is so interesting and wonderful to travel in, people are warm and friendly and there is so much to do. It’s a shame there has been so much negative publicity for Turkey in the past year or so, we feel it’s not a representation of what’s going on.”
Is it safe to take your family to Turkey?
With a favourable exchange rate thanks to a falling lira, hotel discounts and a probable lack of crowds, 2017 is the ideal time to visit Turkey as a family.
Deggin adds that Turkey is not only an ideal family holiday destination - it’s a great place to bring up your children. His wife and two small children are based in Bodrum and Deggin divides his time between the south west coast and Istanbul.
Recent events have not changed his mind as to Turkey’s suitability for family living. “Although I can in no way tell you if you should or shouldn’t travel or live in Turkey, I personally think Turkey is safe, or there is no way I would have based my young family there.”
“Having moved from London to Bodrum, I have to admit I feel a lot safer for my family in Turkey as opposed to the UK. When [my wife and children] go out and about without me: shopping, or to the kindergarten or the beach, I don’t have the same concerns as I did when they lived in London.”\
He attributes this to the sense of community you find in Turkey.
“Wherever you go in Turkey there is a ‘community eye’ watching over and making sure everyone is OK. It’s very reassuring to know that my family is part of this community. It’s a reassurance one rarely feels in London.”
Deggin says Istanbul is largely the same. “It is a big city, and like all big cities it can feel impersonal. But still, there is that same sense of community. The attacks that have gone on here have brought people closer, and there is a sense of looking out for people.”
What is Turkey doing to protect tourists?
Security has been beefed up across the country, Deggin says. “There is definitely more of a police presence, especially in Istanbul. For many people this is reassuring, although I do understand to some it is unsettling.”
Major tourist attractions are also employing airport-style security measures like X-ray scanners.
“The government really wants to bring tourist numbers back to Turkey,” Deggin says. “That means they’re doing everything they can to keep people safe.”
Our advice for travellers visiting Turkey
If in doubt, check with your local embassy. In accordance with the UK foreign office, we advise against all travel to the east of Turkey, by the Syrian border. All the coastal resorts: Antalya, Alanya, Bodrum and Fethiye: are safe; many miles from conflict.
If you’re travelling to a city, like Istanbul, chances are the only trouble you’ll run into is being overcharged for a rug or other souvenir. But to feel safer you should stay away from large crowds and gatherings, and keep an eye on your embassy website.
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