Turkish tourism likely to face more woes post Istanbul airport attack

Tuesday night's suicide bombing attack at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport, that killed 44 people and injured 240, has many wondering if it's now safe to travel through the region. Though the airport re-opened a mere five hours after the attack, Turkey’s already battered travel industry will feel the effect of Tuesday’s incident—the seventh suicide bombing in the country since July 2015—well after the airport is repaired.

Even before Tuesday’s bombing, tourism to Turkey was down 23 percent in the first five months of 2016, according to the Turkish Investment Support and Promotion Agency. That decline is now likely to plummet, experts warn.

According to Tourico Holidays, a travel wholesale brokerage company, online searches for all Turkish destinations were down 500 percent this week compared to their weekly average over the previous month.

A recent study from ACTE Global and “Business Traveler” shows that that sentiment likely won’t be fleeting either: 65 percent of business travelers reported feeling “significantly increased fear” when asked to travel to any region up to three months after the occurence of a local terror event or threat.

Air travel

Despite Ataturk's quick reopening, many flights to Istanbul on Wednesday and Thursday were cancelled or delayed, according to Flightstats.com.

“When things do go back to normal, they don’t tend to flip on like a switch, because of course not every airline will return right away,” said Gary Leff, the author of The View from the Wing and principal of Book Your Award. “They have to do their own assessments, planes will be out of position.” The travel expert says it can take several days after an an airport reopens for operations to return to their pre-attack schedule.

The 11th busiest airport in the world in 2015 with 61.8 million passengers (according to Airports Council International), Istanbul's Ataturk Airport is a major connection hub for travelers from both the East and West. It’s also the base for Turkish Airlines, which flies to 270 international destinations-- more than any other airline in the world.

But according to Lauren Volcheff Atlass, executive vice president of global sales for Tourico, Istanbul may now be a destination flyers would like to avoid—even if they don’t plan on leaving the airport.

“Travelers are reluctant not only regarding all things Istanbul, including stopovers, but Turkey in general,” Atlass told FoxNews.com.

When it comes to global travel, the ramifications of the attacks are likely to be felt far beyond the shores of the Bosphorus.

“They [Turkish Airlines] serve plenty of destinations where they are the best way to get there for Westerners making the trip,” said Leff. He noted that Turkish Airlines provides one-stop (in Istanbul) connectivity for Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Washington DC, with destinations including five cities in Iraq, eight cities in Iran, and multiple destinations in both Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan.

Celebrity Cruises has cancelled all planned upcoming stops in Istanbul, Turkey for 2016 and will replace them with stops in Athens, Greece.

Celebrity Cruises has cancelled all planned upcoming stops in Istanbul, Turkey for 2016 and will replace them with stops in Athens, Greece. (Celebrity Cruises)

Leff said relatively obscure destinations-- where tourism could be a big source of income-- are likely to be hurt by less traffic through Ataturk.


In the midst of a major overhaul, Istanbul’s cruise ship terminal was already having difficulty attracting ships before recent terror threats. After the suicide bombings earlier this year, many cruise lines that still had Turkish ports on their itinerary—like Viking, Disney Cruise Line, and Norwegian—canceled them altogether.

The morning after this week’s attack Seabourn announced it was canceling a turnaround in Istanbul that had been scheduled for July 2. Celebrity, Windstar, and Cunard cancelled port calls in Istanbul for the remainder of 2016 (a combined 25 visits).

“More cruise lines are eliminating Istanbul as a port of disembarkation and reverting to Athens, Greece,” said Mina Agnos, president and co-founder of Travelive, an agency specializing in luxury independent travel.

“As a result we are seeing a notable drop in pre- and post- cruise bookings for Istanbul. Additionally, we have seen that independent travelers are now preferring to err on the side of caution when it comes to Turkey."

Is it safe to travel to Europe now? 

For cautious travelers, canceling a trip to Turkey may provide temporary peace of mind.

"I have had a number of guests contact us to cancel their Istanbul segments opting instead for other European cities including Athens, Barcelona and Rome," says Agnos.

But until more is known about Tuesday incident, some travelers may just want to stay the course.

“In general, what people should be doing right now is not worrying about it until we learn more about the situation,” Leff said. “In a few days will know a lot more than we know right now about what happened, how it happened, why it happened, that might lead people to be able to form a reasonable judgement about the extent to which risks are higher—or perhaps lower.”