German tour operators are offering free cancellations or re-bookings of trips to Istanbul after the terror attack there last weekend but are reassuring customers that the Turkish Riviera remains safe.
The suicide bombing on Istanbul's best-known shopping street last Saturday, which killed four people, is likely to further hit already weak demand for Turkey, according to experts. The German foreign ministry is advising visitors to avoid public places, tourist attractions and government buildings, and to limit their use of public transport.
In response, leading German tour operators are offering customers the option of cancelling forthcoming trips to the city free of charge or switching to an alternative destination.
Öger Tours, for example, said it could no longer guarantee that city trips to Istanbul could be carried out as booked due to the governmental security advice. Managing director Songül Göktas-Rosati told fvw: “So we're offering free re-bookings and cancellations to customers who have booked a city trip to Istanbul with departures up to March 31.” But she stressed: “The situation in the beach destinations on the Aegean and Turkish Riviera, where the overwhelming majority of our guests spend their holiday, remains calm.”
Similarly, TUI customers with departures up to March 31 and DER Touristik guests with Istanbul trips up to April 30 can cancel or switch their booking free of charge.
Cultural holidays specialist Studiosus reacted by cancelling four different group tours to Istanbul this month. Director Hans-Dieter Lohneis commented: “In view of the current travel advice, Istanbul visitors face the question anyway what they can still do in the city.” He added: “Our Turkey trips can still be re-booked up to four weeks before departure without having to give any reason.”
Fellow cultural tours specialist Gebeco currently still plans to go ahead with its next Istanbul tour in April. “Our tour guides and local service partners are obliged to take additional care in the big cities and to avoid large crowds of people,” a spokeswoman said.
Meanwhile, major German travel agency consortium Schmetterling Reisen has taken the controversial decision to cancel its annual conference, which was scheduled for the Aegean coastal resort of Kusadasi from April 21-24. The organisation said it had received many enquiries about security and conference arrangements, and about 100 of the 600 participants had already cancelled their registrations.
These enquiries and cancellations had generated “major doubts about whether we should go ahead with the conference in the current situation”. “We don't know what we will be confronted with in the coming five weeks before the start of the conference and so have decided on this step with a heavy heart in the interests of our responsibility for you,” Schmetterling wrote in an e-mail to participants.
The conference cancellation generated strong reactions on fvw.de, with 59% of participants in an online survey saying that it presented a terrible signal to the Turkish tourism industry while 41% said they understood the decision. Critics claimed the decision showed that “travel agents are afraid of going to Turkey” and could now hardly sell the destination to their clients, while others defended Schmetterling's decision as being responsible in the circumstances.