Security Concerns Send Turkish Foreign Visitor Arrivals Tumbling

A Turkish police officer stands guard in front of St Antouan Church on Istiklal Street. one of Istanbul's most popular tourist destinations. March 27, 2016. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

By Nevzat Devranoglu and Can Sezer

ANKARA/ISTANBUL, March 29 – The number of foreign visitors going to Turkey fell 10 percent in February, the biggest drop in a decade, amid security concerns for a country feeling the spillover effects from the war in Syria.

Turkey has been hit by a spate a bomb attacks this year, including two in Istanbul – its biggest city and traditional tourist draw – blamed on Daesh. In January a suicide bomber blew himself up in the city’s historic heart, killing 12 German tourists.

Tourist traffic could drop further after another suicide bomber blew himself up on Istanbul’s most popular shopping thoroughfare this month, killing three Israeli tourists and an Iranian. Israel has advised its citizens visiting Turkey to leave “as soon as possible”, predicting possible follow-up attacks.

Tourism fell 10.32 percent year-on-year in February, to 1.24 million people, tourism ministry data showed on Tuesday, the biggest drop since October 2006.

The industry is also suffering from a chill in relations with Russia, a major source of tourists to Turkey, with Russian visitors down by more than half during the month.

Turkey shot down a Russian jet over Syria last year, prompting President Vladimir Putin to impose economic sanctions on Turkey, including a ban on charter flights.

Russians have also been hit by an economic crisis that has weakened their rouble currency, driving up the cost of foreign holidays.

Economists have forecast that Turkey’s tourism revenue will drop by a quarter this year, costing the country around $8 billion.

Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek, the minister in charge of economic matters, said that the dent in tourist numbers would be short-lived, pointing out that Turkey is the sixth most visited country in the world.

“This year we will have some troubles, but they are temporary,” he said in a speech to the Ankara Chamber of Industry.

Simsek said the economy grew by 4 percent or a little more in 2015, close to the 3.9 percent that economists are expecting when Turkey releases 2015 GDP data this week. GDP grew 2.9 percent in 2014.

Separately, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a meeting of his AK Party that the economy would perform better this year than it did in 2015.

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