Turkey's $20 billion tourism industry under threat

An anti-government demonstrator chants slogans on Istikal street in the centre of Istanbul.
An anti-government demonstrator chants slogans on Istikal street in the centre of Istanbul. Photo: AFP

As the northern summer tourism season is set to begin, the violent protests in Turkey show no sign of calming down.

The nationwide protests, which began in late May, have led to a series of violent clashes between police and Turkish citizens in prominent tourist areas. Three people are reported to have died and the Turkish government is now threatening to utilise its army to subdue the unrest.

With Turkish police having fired tear gas into the foyer of the luxury Divan Hotel on Saturday, the situation is increasingly becoming of concern to tourists and the Turkish economy. Turkey is the sixth most popular tourist destination in the world. It attracts more than 30 million foreign tourists annually, generating more than $20 billion for the Turkish economy.

A protestor holds a flag at a demonstration in Istanbul.
A protestor holds a flag at a demonstration in Istanbul. Photo: AFP

As the protests enter the country's peak travel season, the Turkish Ministry Of Culture and Tourism has released a statement in an attempt to quell concerns. "There are currently no problems being experienced with either transport or security in Istanbul or any of our tourism regions, and thus every sort of touristic activity is carrying on as normal."

But the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade advised on Monday that the road leading to Australia's Consulate-General in Istanbul's central Taksim Square had been closed as a result of the situation. "Australians seeking to visit the Consulate-General will need to show their passport identification to access this area," DFAT's Smart Traveller Website advises. DFAT's advice for Australians travelling to Turkey remains at "Exercise a high degree of caution".

Dr David Tittensor, an expert in Turkish politics and society from the University of Melbourne, said Turkey remains safe for tourists if they avoid troubled areas. "It would be wise for people to stay away from protest areas, particularly with reports rubber bullets have been used."

Dr Tittensor said he did not think the protests would continue for the duration of Turkey's peak tourism season. "I think they will pass. I can't see it going on for two months," he said.

"Given the violent crackdown, I'd be surprised if the government allowed it to continue."

Shannon O'Reilly, 21 from Sydney, is holidaying in Turkey for her mid-semester university break in three weeks time. O'Reilly said she was closely following the news out of Istanbul, where she will spend the majority of her vacation. "If the situation escalates more I'd consider changing plans but at moment I'll just wait and see what happens," she said.

Having travelled to Turkey before, O'Reilly's excitement for her return hasn't been deterred by the political unrest. "It's a beautiful place with really friendly people."

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