The latest act of terror to hit a popular travel destination is likely to see European tourists shunning Turkey and flocking back to more traditional sunshine hotspots such as Spain and Portugal, according to travel industry figures.
Yesterday witnessed a bomb explosion at the heart of Istanbul – an atrocity which claimed the lives of 10 people, including nine German tourists.
The incident took place in Sultanahmet Meydani (Square), the plaza at the heart of the historic quarter of Turkey’s most famous city – a place that is usually busy with overseas visitors. The Blue Mosque, Istanbul’s most celebrated landmark, sits on the plaza’s edge.
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The suicide attack has been blamed on sympathisers of the so-called Islamic State.
This is not the first blast to have shaken Turkey in recent months – 32 people were killed in Suruc, near the Syrian border, last July, while 103 people died when a device was detonated to devastating effect in the capital Ankara in October.
But it is the first time that an attack has taken place in a location pinned firmly to the tourist trail.
It is likely to cause holidaymakers – already nervous about security issues in Egypt, in the wake of the apparent bombing of a Russian charter flight departing from Sharm el Sheikh on October 31, and a knife attack at a hotel in Hurghada last Friday (January 8) – to seek out supposedly safer destinations in western Europe.
Tunisia, where a gunman murdered 38 tourists – 30 of them from the UK – at a beach resort in Sousse, last June, remains off-limits to British travellers, with the Foreign Office (FO) still advising against “all but essential travel” to the country.
Despite its proximity to war-torn Syria, with which it shares a border, Turkey has been seen as a reliable haven for seafront holidays. Over 2.5million Britons visit the country every year, the majority heading for the hotels of Bodrum, Antalya and Marmaris.
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The explosion in Istanbul will damage consumer confidence in Turkey, warned Noel Josephides, chairman of the travel group ABTA.
“It is very bad news,” he said. “There are too many incidents, one after another. It destabilises the market.”
“Turkey specialists will be watching sales this week to see whether they fall off a cliff.”
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The staging of the attack in January, when many potential travellers are considering winter-sun escapes or planning their summer holidays, will also have an impact, said another industry figure.
“The timing couldn’t be worse,” Andy Cooper – a former head of the Federation of Tour Operators – told Travel Weekly, describing January as “Turkey’s important booking period.”
A further consequence, he said, could be a leap in the cost of getaways to Spain – sparked by extra demand for flights and accommodation.
“It puts huge pressure on Spain, and you end up with a squeeze on beds,” Mr Cooper continued. “Prices go up and capacity runs short.”
The attack is certainly a blow to Turkey’s tourist industry, which has suffered at the hands of incidents beyond its control in the last half a year.
Russia is its second biggest market – but the number of visitors from Europe’s largest country has dropped since November, when a Russian fighter jet was shot down by the Turkish air force in a dispute over air space along the Syrian border.
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After the crash, Russia’s state tourism agency called for travellers to boycott Turkey.
Germany is Turkey’s prime source of tourists – but the flow of holidaymakers from Berlin and Munich will lessen in the wake of the German deaths in Sultanahmet.
The FO has not changed its stance on journeys to Turkey, emphasising that “over 2,500,000 British nationals visit Turkey every year. Most visits are trouble-free.”
However, it warns that “there is a high threat from terrorism” – and, in reference to the blast in Istanbul, advises that “if you are in the affected area, you should follow the instructions of the local security authorities.”