Intrepid Travel, a tour operator offering itineraries to Turkey, says that bookings to the destination are booming after a challenging few years of security concerns and a diplomatic dispute that halted the issuance of visas for travelers from the United States. What’s more, the company says it expects travel to grow as a major new airport near Istanbul readies for launch.
“People are feeling more relaxed about visiting Turkey,” Jen Hartin, Middle East and Turkey destination manager for Intrepid Travel, tells Travel Agent. “They’re not focused on fears that may have been there in previous years – those seem to have dissipated.”
Intrepid is reporting a 214 percent growth in global bookings to Turkey this year over last year, making it the company’s fastest-growing destination. Additionally, according to data from the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), the contribution of the tourism sector to Turkey’s GDP is set to double by more than 8.4 percent this year, putting it in the top 15 countries ranked by travel and tourism’s contribution to GDP worldwide.
The country’s currency has seen a sharp slide against the dollar, as well, making the destination a good value for travelers, Hartin says.
While visa services were suspended in late 2017 over a diplomatic dispute, Hartin says there are no lingering issues regarding getting a visa.
“The online system was made available to North America as soon as the suspension was lifted,” Hartin says. “Visas are often approved within a matter of hours, sometimes minutes.”
Since the visa suspension was lifted, other suppliers have begun to return to the destination. Celestyal Cruises will call in Istanbul again for the first time in 2019, while tour operators Pleasant Holidays and Journese both announced their return to the country earlier this year. The country also just added a new EDITION hotel near Bodrum.
What can agents say to clients who are concerned about a trip to Turkey? “The reality is that wherever you go there’s a degree of risk,” Hartin says. “It’s important that agents are asking the right questions to ensure they know what level of risk their client is comfortable with.”
Hartin also recommends that, for clients who are concerned about security, booking group travel with a tour operator that has local contacts can make for a safer environment.
Looking ahead, a new airport opening 22 miles from Istanbul’s city center could boost travel to the destination even further.
“With the new airport set to be open as one of the biggest, if not the biggest, globally, the push is already starting to happen, with more visitors coming in,” Hartin said.
The first phase of the airport is set to open October 29, timed to coincide with Turkey’s Republic Day, after which it will continue to expand in sections.
As for hotspots in Turkey, Hartin points to a mix of well- and lesser-known destinations.
“Istanbul is always going to be hot, and it’s going to get hotter,” says Hartin. “I think this airport is going to make this a really cool stopover destination.”
Other than that, outside of “classic” Turkey destinations such as Ephesus and Cappadocia, places popular with locals could soon be drawing more tourists from the United States.
“I always say international tourism tends to follow what domestic tourism does,” says Hartin. In particular she points to Bodrum, long an Aegean getaway for Turkey’s affluent population, as well as Kaş, a town on the Mediterranean where travelers can take a boat out over a sunken city.