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3/30/16

Tourist Industry: Tourists Steer Clear of Turkey After Bombings, Russia Clash - by Yeliz Candemir and Emre Peker

A string of terrorist attacks blamed on Islamic State or Kurdish militants, on top of a diplomatic feud with Russia, are battering Turkey’s vibrant tourism industry, which had been one of the few bright spots in a slowing economy.

Bookings for this summer are down 40% from last year, and hotel occupancy rates have plunged more than half, according to industry figures. Hundreds of hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, and boutique resorts have been put up for sale.

And there is no end in sight to the turmoil. On Saturday, another bombing blamed on Islamic State killed four foreigners on a busy Istanbul shopping street.

“We didn’t dream of such a terrible situation,” said Bora Adali, a 35-year-old hotelier in Antalya, who is trying to sell his three-star resort. “We are facing a big crisis, and its scope hasn't yet been recognized.”

Tourism revenues tripled between 2001 and 2014, reaching a record $34.3 billion. In 2012, Istanbul joined the world’s top-five tourist destinations, according to the MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index.

For eight years, Mr. Adali tapped into that growth. His 43-room hotel in the seaside town of Belek, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hosted the Group of 20 summit in November, was often filled by Russian tourists.

But just weeks after that summit, Turkish jets shot down a Russian warplane along the Turkey-Syria border that Ankara claimed had violated its airspace. Moscow denied the allegation and hit back with a trade embargo, including an effective ban Russian tours to Turkey. About four million Russians normally visit Turkey each year, the second-biggest group after Germany.

Turkey’s hotels and tourism-related businesses might have weathered the punitive Russian steps. But a series of suicide bombings frightened off a much broader stream of tourists from Europe.

Islamic State was blamed for twin-suicide bombings in Ankara last fall that killed more than 100 people at a peace rally. In January, an Islamic State suicide bomber killed a dozen German tourists in Istanbul near the Blue Mosque, one of the city’s most popular attractions.

Two car bombings over the past month in the capital killed dozens of people. Both were tied to Kurdish militants, signaling the insurgency was shifting its decades-old battle toward attacking urban centers and civilians instead of military targets in the mostly rural southeast.

The government has launched operations across predominantly Kurdish areas in southeastern Turkey to stamp out Kurdish separatists, including areas like Mardin and Diyarbakir, where tourism had thrived until the recent violence.

Officials have also tried to shore up the industry, which has seen almost 2,000 facilities catering to tourists listed for sale online in recent months.

Tourists Steer Clear of Turkey After Bombings, Russia Clash - WSJ

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