|Turkey's vital tourist industry threatened by bombings|
|Sector is country's biggest foreign earner, bringing in $13.2 billion in 2003
Turkish authorities and travel industry professionals rushed to defend the image of Turkey's vital tourist industry Tuesday following an apparent terror attack on two hotels largely frequented by foreigners.
"We are taking all necessary measures to ensure that tourism is not affected," Interior Minister Abdulkadir Aksu told a news conference. Tuesday's attack, in which two people were killed, rekindled security fears that have haunted the Turkish city since bomb attacks last year left more than 60 dead.
With 14 million tourists and $13.2 billion in income, the sector was Turkey's leading source of foreign earnings in 2003.
The industry has been doing even better this year, with a 43.5 percent increase in the number of visitors (a total of 6.7 million) compared to the corresponding January-June period in 2003.
Aksu said Istanbul had hosted the summit meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in June and several other high-level conferences without a hitch, proving the efficacy of the police in security matters.
"All possible security measures have been put in place, and foreign tourists have no cause to leave the country," said Ali Mehmet Mehmetoglu at the tourism office in Sultanahmet, the district on the European side of Istanbul where one of the hotels was attacked. "The attacks today will have no effect on tourism," he added. "These kind of things happen all over the world."
Police were unable to immediately identify those responsible for the overnight attacks but were looking into possible involvement by Kurdish rebels, Aksu said.
An Al-Qaeda linked group claimed responsibility for the bombings, in a statement carried by an Islamic website monitored in Dubai.
Tourism was limited for a long time by a deadly bombing campaign by the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in the 1980s and early 1990s, and the after-effects of the first Gulf War. But it has been steadily increasing since then, and the sector has really taken off in the past two years.
Mehmetoglu said he estimated 16 million tourists from abroad will visit Turkey this year.
About one in six visitors in the first half of this year was German, and about one in 10 Russian. The country is also popular with visitors from Israel and Iran.
In the hotels of old Istanbul, there was little sense of worry about the loss of this manna.
"After the attacks, not one of our clients has decided to leave in a hurry," said Mustafa Ciplak, manager of the Amisos hotel in Sultanahmet. He said the hotel is heavily booked through the summer season. "The tourists get used to this kind of event - they even go to Israel where it happens all the time." Herve Vighier, head of the Marmara agency, said the bombings were unlikely to effect his business, particularly as most clients head for coastal resorts such as Antalya, Bodrum and Izmir.
Hulya Aksar, manager of the Pensions de Sainte-Sophie, another hotel in Istanbul's Sultanahmet quarter, said that August was not a busy month for her, because people avoid the city in the summer heat and head for the beaches in the south. But she said her hotel was fully booked next month. Huseyin Berberoglu, a carpet salesman in the Blue Mosque Bazaar, added a note of caution.
"If the terrorism hypothesis is confirmed, and if there are other attacks, then yes, perhaps that will frighten the tourists."
Beirut,08 16 2004
The Daily Star