Turkey’s new Minister of Culture and Tourism has an ambitious plan to revive the country’s travel sector. But with tourism numbers in decline in 2016 following a failed coup and series of terrorist attacks, how will travelers respond? Travel Agent reached out to one advisor who just visited the country for her take.
“I think, like most areas of the world, when stuff happens life continues on as normal,” says Julie Michaels, a travel agent with Century Travel, a Worldview Tvl Company, in Atlanta, GA. Michaels recently visited Turkey with her husband for the first time on an 11-night itinerary with stays in Istanbul, Cappadocia and Bodrum.
Michaels says that, while there were still lines at major tourist sites, the guides with the group said that the crowds were lighter than normal. There were also fewer Westerners, with most other travelers Michaels saw hailing from China and South America.
“I think the people [of Turkey] are just so lovely,” says Michaels, “and they’re hurting from the outside impression. With the government, we hear, ‘You can’t really control the stuff that your leader says.’”
Michaels noted that security was tight around airports and hotels, with the airport requiring travelers to pass through three layers of security and turn on their laptops as an added security measure.
“All the layers of security almost made me feel better that everyone’s been checked,” says Michaels, who also praised Turkish Airlines’ handling of the laptop ban, which was still in place during her trip.
“You checked your laptop in right at the gate, they wrapped them in bubble wrap, and then you claimed them in the baggage claim [at your destination],” Michaels says. “It was a really smooth process for what could have been horrible.”
Outside of airports and hotels, however, security measures were less intrusive. “You didn’t see people walking around with guns unless it was near an official building,” Michaels says.
What steps should travel agents take? Michaels worked with destination management company Travel Refinery on her trip, and she emphasized the value of working with a local partner.
“Knowing that you have a vetted supplier is so important,” says Michaels. “’They told me, “If I would at any point fear for your safety I would tell you not to come.’ It’s great to have that reassurance from a partner on the ground.”
Michaels also enrolled in the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), and also made sure that her emergency contact knew her itinerary as well as the relevant contact numbers in case of emergency.
When talking with clients, Michaels noted that her personal experience was a big point of reassurance.
“I always mention [Turkey] to clients if it makes sense for what they’re looking for,” Michaels says. “I hear, ‘Oh wow, I’m so happy to hear you went. I’ve always wanted to go but I’ve been a bit nervous.’”
Michaels also notes that right now the destination is providing good value for luxury, and the relative lack of crowds can also be a draw.
“Don’t be afraid to get outside of your comfort zone,” says Michaels. “I think going outside your comfort zone hits the greatest reward, and my husband and I both agree, this trip hit so many spots – culinary, history – out of the water.”