Tourists flock to Turkey despite protests


Balkan tourists go ahead with vacation plans, but Istanbul hotels report losses.

By Marina Stojanovska for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 28/0613


A tourist resort in Bodrum. Despite the unrest in Turkish cities, few Balkan tourists are modi-fying their summer travel plans. [Marina Stojanovska/SETimes]

The recent police crackdown on demonstrations in Istanbul and other Turkish cities drew global headlines for its severity, but that has not convinced tourists from the Balkans to ditch their plans to visit Turkey this summer.

The unrest started on May 31st, when police raided a protest encampment in Gezi Park, one of the last green spaces in downtown Istanbul, which was slated for redevelopment. Thou-sands were wounded and four were killed as unrest swept the country during June. Human rights groups denounced the response as disproportionate, a charge the Turkish government denied.

As the tumult subsides, there are few signs that tourists from Balkan countries are having second thoughts about visiting Turkey.

"At the moment, we already have about 120 tourists from Macedonia in Turkey. We have contacts with them every day and there is no problem," Sonja Naumovska, a sales agent at the Skopje-based TA Fibula agency, told SETimes. "Our agency recently even organised a trip to Istanbul. They don't have any complains."

Naumovska added that her Turkish partners have not suggested any restrictions or precau-tions for travellers to Turkey.

"So far no one has cancelled arrangements. Our costumers never mentioned the situation with demonstrations," she said.

Skopje resident Ankica Stojanovska, 37, told SETimes that she does not intend to cancel her plans to vacation in Turkey.

"I have friends who live in Turkey, I have contacted them and they told me that the coastal areas of the country are quite safe, so in the second half of August, I will go on vacation," she said.

Tour operators in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) report that the demonstrations had only a temporary impact on tourism.

"In first week of June we had a few trips to Istanbul booked, but because of demonstrations, they were cancelled. All other reservations are going normally and people are not afraid to travel," Jasminka Andric, executive director of the Zepter Passport travel agency in Banja Luka, told SETimes.

The Golden Tours agency from Tuzla sent representatives to tourist destinations in Turkey at the beginning of June to evaluate conditions there. Few problems were evident, they said.

"They called us and said that these places on [the Mediterranean] are perfectly safe and hotel managers are waiting for our tourists. The first group of travellers went in the second week of June and they came back with nice memories," sales representative Adisa Pandur told SETimes, adding that none of her customers have cancelled trips to Turkey.

On June 19th, the National Association of the Tourism Agencies in Romania (ANAT) issued a press release saying that Turkey is a safe destination for Romanian tourists with the excep-tion of Taksim Square in downtown Istanbul, a site of intense violence during the unrest.

However, Romanian travel agencies report that the situation in Istanbul has not upset Roma-nians' travel plans.

"Other than issuing alerts concerning the Taksim Square, we did not have any cancellation of either tourist packages on the Turkish seaside or those concerning Istanbul," Ana-Maria Moanta, marketing manager of Marshal Turism, a Romanian travel agency, told SETimes.

Adrian Lambru, a 37-year-old accountant from Bucharest, said he will visit Turkey despite the protests.

"I am not going to miss my early planned holiday because of that. I understand there may be some risks but I am positive Turkish authorities will be careful enough not to incur any nega-tive effects on their successful tourist sector," he told SETimes.

Croatian tourists are showing more interest in Turkish beaches than cities.

"Tourism and riots do not go together," Aleksandra Puskar, a spokeswoman for the Zagreb-based travel agency Kompas Zagreb, told SETimes. "Of course, the interest has damp-ened, particularly in Istanbul, but the market restores itself pretty swiftly, so we expect a re-turn to old numbers along with the suspension of the protest."

But Vedrana Selimbegovic, a travel agent at Zagreb-based Jammark tour agency, said the protests have had a minimal impact on their business.

"The response of tourists has remained almost the same as before the start of the protest, probably because they know that the protests are focused in major cities, and not in the coastal resorts," she told SETimes.

Tourism in Istanbul has suffered despite continued interest from tourists. According to the Touristic Hotels and Investors Association (TUROB), an industry group, the Turkish tourism sector lost 54 million euros due to recent cancellations.

There has also been a 55 percent decline in demand for accommodation. Areas closest to the protests were hardest hit, losing 80 percent of cancellations and about 200,000 customers, ac-cording to TUROB.

TUROB President Timur Bayindir complained that media coverage hurt the tourism industry.

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"Our sector is vulnerable to media reports. Some news in the national and international media produced much misinformation directly impacting the perception of tourists," he told SETimes.

"For instance, the streets leading to the hotel areas of Taksim were not blocked to passenger transit. Such misleading information resulted in information pollution and discouraged people from coming to Turkey."

Correspondents Mladen Dragojlovic in Banja Luka, Menekse Tokyay in Istanbul, Paul Ciocoiu in Bucharest, and Kruno Kartus in Osijek contributed to this report.

Will the unrest in Turkey impact your vacation plans this summer? Share your thoughts in the comments area below.

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