Istanbul Airport attack: Another strike against Turkey's crippled tourism industry

Published June 30th, 2016 - 09:00 GMT
More than 2.5 million Brits were planning trips to Turkish resorts this year.  (AFP/Ozan Kose)
More than 2.5 million Brits were planning trips to Turkish resorts this year. (AFP/Ozan Kose)

Tuesday's deadly attack on Istanbul Airport is the latest attempt by Islamic extremists to kill off Western tourism to Muslim countries, experts believe.

Groups like ISIS - who have yet to formally claim responsibility for yesterday's bombings but are considered the most likely - are seeking to continue their reign of terror in holiday hotspots favoured by Brits and northern Europeans. 

By doing so, they aim to not only kill and maim, but strike fear in the hearts of travellers planning on visiting the likes of Turkey, Egypt and Tunisia.

Experts believe terror chiefs view such panic as vital to their ongoing expansion across southern Europe and North Africa. 

By doing so, they aim to leave thousands of locals economically devastated as their once thriving tourist trade is forced to close down due as visitor numbers haemorrhage. 

Desperate, the Islamic State - bankrolled by hundreds of millions of pounds of oil money - then becomes an attractive proposition to those embittered and broken by the collapse of their livelihoods.

Leaving Istanbul's Ataturk airport - the home of flag carrier Turkish Airlines and 'the hub of the country's tourism industry' - on Wednesday, Iranian fabric trader Huseyn Kokmus was one such tourist.

He said: 'I've been coming to Istanbul for 15 years but I swear I don't think I will be coming back this time.'

Ege Seckin, an analyst at IHS Country risk, said: '[The attack was] most likely conducted by the Islamic State to undermine the Turkish economy by attacking the airport ahead of the summer months, when tourism peaks.'

Over the year to June almost 200 people have been killed and thousands wounded in bombings in Istanbul and Ankara.

A bombing against Istanbul's historic Sultanahmet square in January claimed the lives of 11 German tourists, while three Israelis and one Iranian died in a blast on the bustling Istiklal shopping street in March.

Both attacks were blamed on the Islamic State.

February and March car bombings in Ankara claimed by TAK killed at least 63 people between them.

For a destination which has sold itself to prospective visitors from abroad using its storied monuments - especially sites like the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia church at Sultanahmet - the explosions have been economically devastating. 

More than 2.5million Brits were planning trips to Turkish resorts this year. However, that number is already thought to have been reduced significantly in the 24 hours since the bombing - with both Westminster and the EU warning of more attacks in the region. 

The number of foreigners arriving in Turkey in May was 2.48 million, down 34.6 percent from the same month in 2015, according to government data.

Allen Collinsworth, an international business consultant based in Istanbul, said there are 'a lot of liquidity problems' in Turkey and that foreign investment has been drying up because of concerns about stability.

Jean-Pierre Mas, head of French travel agencies association Entreprises du Voyage, said: 'This is very bad news for tourism and more generally for air travel. It's an attack that directly targeted travellers.'

Turkey is not alone.

The tourist industries in both Tunisia and Egypt have nose-dived since they were both targeted by IS jihadis last year.

Thirty-eight people were killed at a beach resort in Sousse, Tunisia, when a gunman attacked a hotel last June. Thirty of those who died were British. That battered a tourist trade which previously accounted for 7-8 per cent of Tunisia's economy.

The number of tourist arrivals in Tunisia dropped 25 per cent to 5.4 million last year. That contributed to a slowdown in economic growth to 0.8 per cent from 2.3 per cent a year earlier.

This year's Tourism Ministry data revealed the number of foreign tourists fell by 21.5 per cent in the first six months of 2016 compared to the same period last year - a 500,000 person drop. The number of British tourists slumped to just 8,000 from 190,000 in the first half of 2015.

The government has been helping the tourism sector pay for the cost of tighter security, for instance by paying social security contributions for employees, and banks are giving hotels more time to pay back their loans.

But with guests staying away, hotels are still booking losses. 

There are now thought to be between 7,000 and 8,000 Tunisians fighting with IS - the highest number per capita of any foreigners joining.

In an interview with the Council on Foreign Relations, Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid admitted that the most common and significant factor drawing Tunisians to ISIS are 'economic'.

He added: 'They didn't have jobs ...they couldn't have a normal life.'

Egypt is in a similar mire. Metrojet Flight 9268 was blown out of the sky on October 31 shortly after departing from Sharm el-Sheikh International Airport. A bomb was believed to have been hidden in the jet's cargo hold.

Hotel managers in Sharm el-Sheikh have since had to slash prices to as little as £18 a night, with travel experts conceding that the resort is 'on its knees'. More than 100 hotels have closed.

'Sharm is dead,' British café owner Lorraine Green previously told MailOnline.

'The big hotels are now offering silly prices. The tourist business is down 90 per cent.'

Since the attacks in each country, ISIS recruitment numbers from both has risen. 

By Euan McClelland  


© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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