Is it safe to travel to Turkey in 2017?
Bookings for holidays to Turkey, one of the long-time favourite destinations for British travellers, were reportedly down by at least one-third this summer*. Are concerns about the country justified? The Independent's travel correspondent Simon Calder tackles the key questions for Skyscanner users and provides his tips on travel to Turkey in 2017.
Why have a holiday in Turkey?
Turkey is a vast nation, straddling Europe and Asia, full of beauty and rich in heritage. The country also has welcoming people, fabulous cuisine, great beaches - and low prices. I first visited Turkey in 1988, travelling along the Mediterranean coast to resorts including Olu Deniz and Marmaris, and exploring treasures such as the ruins of Ephesus. I have returned many times since then, both as an independent backpacker and on package holidays. I am particularly fond of the biggest metropolis, Istanbul, which is one of the most fascinating and rewarding cities in the world - and I am looking forward to exploring the country more deeply in years to come.
Do you think it is safe to travel to Turkey this summer?
I can’t say that any destination is safe. But my view is that in the tourist areas in Turkey, in common with almost everywhere else on the planet, the risk of coming to harm is tolerably low. As far as I can tell from my discussions with prospective holidaymakers and travel industry insiders, some people may be avoiding the country this summer because of uncertainty about safety and concern about being caught up in a terrorist attack. Some travellers are also unsettled about Turkey’s proximity to Syria, where a war is taking place (Turkey shares a substantial portion of its southern border with Syria). Contributing to a general sense of unease is the perception that the eastern part of the Mediterranean is unstable.
The Foreign Office advise that, while the threat of terrorism in Turkey is high:
"Attacks could be indiscriminate and could affect places visited by foreigners."
For the most recent updates on tourism in Turkey, visit the Government's Foreign Travel Advice website.
Are these perceptions about Turkey based on reality?
Terrorism is certainly an issue that travellers should be aware of before they decide on a holiday in Turkey. In the past year Turkey has seen a significant number of terrorist atrocities committed on its soil, in which nearly 200 people have died. The majority of attacks are against local people. But in some attacks tourists have been targeted. Risk assessment is complicated because there isn’t a single enemy: recent perpetrators of terrorist attacks include groups sympathetic to so-called Islamic State, Kurdish separatists and two far-left political factions.
Proximity to Syria is less of a concern for me. The sorts of places that most people would visit in Turkey are well away from the Syrian border. The Turkish armed forces are extremely strong, and there is no possibility that fighting from the war there will spill over as far as the resorts.
From a visitor’s perspective, one concern is that fighters from the Syrian conflict have been blamed for some of the terrorist outrages in Turkey. The Eastern Mediterranean has certainly been in the headlines - particularly because of the images of refugees fleeing conflict. This is a very serious humanitarian crisis, and some holidaymakers have commendably chosen to get involved in trying to help. But on my visits to the region over the past year, the movement of people has not had a significant impact on tourist areas.
Are there any places in Turkey you think best avoided?
The Foreign Office advises against travel to within 10km of the border with Syria, and to the provinces of Sirnak, Mardin, Sanliurfa, Gaziantep, Diyarbakir, Kilis and Hatay provinces. These are areas well away from holiday resorts and tourist sites. Here's a map from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office website to help you plan your next trip to Turkey:
What should you do if you’ve already booked your holiday to Turkey?
I would say look forward to it! The chances are you will have a fabulous trip, and you can expect an especially warm welcome this summer. Key places to visit in Turkey, such as the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque in Istanbul, and the surreal landscape of Cappadocia are also likely to be far less crowded than usual.
If you want to cancel your holiday, what are your rights?
With no official warning against travel to tourist resorts in Turkey - and no likelihood of the Foreign Office issuing one - if you decide not to travel, you are likely to lose some or all of the money you have paid. You will not be able to claim on insurance for what is known as “disinclination to travel.”
Would you take your family to Turkey?
Yes: summer 2017 strikes me as the ideal time to visit Turkey, with a very favourable exchange rate and a refreshing lack of crowds. I also think it is important to help the many Turkish people whose livelihoods depend on tourism. However, finding a trip may be tricky. Airlines have cut back on the number of flights, and some operators have axed Turkey altogether from their programmes. Earlier this year I booked a package holiday to Turkey, only to be told a couple of months later that the tour operator had cancelled it. We switched to Lesbos in Greece.
*According to GfK sales figures for package holidays sold up to end-April, compared with same measure in 2015.
We've got more helpful tips on holidaying in the Eastern Mediterranean:
As one of the world’s most visited cities, you can expect World Heritage sites, grand religious attractions and places of historical significance from Istanbul, as well as a vibrant arts scene and great nightlife.
Not one but three destinations in Turkey made it into our top ten trending places to go in the world this year. Find out why here...
Want an alternative to Turkey this year? Take a leaf out of Simon's book, and choose the similarly sweeping Mediterranean coastline, ancient history and fascinating culture of the Greek Islands.