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Turkey - is it safe to travel?
Over the past week the protests in Istanbul and other cities have put Turkey at the forefront of world news. The unrest started initially over plans to develop an Istanbul city centre park and do away with one of the city’s few remaining green spaces. It quickly became a protest movement against recent bills and pronouncements by the government that many see as a threat to Turkey’s secular state as well as a gradual erosion of the country’s democratic status.
With millions booked to go, or thinking of going, to Turkey for their summer holidays, many people are wondering whether it’s safe to visit the country at the moment and whether the protests will affect their holiday plans.
The latest Foreign Office advice is to stay away from any demonstrations and to leave the area if you see a protest forming or taking place. You should also be prepared for possible delays to travel plans as a result of strikes that might take place shortly. The FCO website advises against travel to the Turkish towns within 10km of the Syrian border, but these warnings have been in place long before the start of the current demonstrations and refer to areas that are a long way from the holiday resorts. They have not issued any advice to stay away from Istanbul or any of the main holiday resorts.
In Istanbul, tourists are still queuing outside the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace and other main tourist sites, although in smaller numbers than might be expected in a typical June. Istanbul is a very big city and Taksim Square, where the protests are concentrated, is a good 30 minute walk from the part of the city where most of the tourist hotels are found. Beyond Istanbul and the Turkish capital Ankara, anti-government demonstrations have been reported in tourist resorts including Fethiye, Marmaris and Bodrum, although they have been largely peaceful.
Natalie Sayers, a British woman who now lives in Turkey and writes about the country on her site, is currently in the small holiday resort of Altinkum on the Aegean coast. “I feel no danger and life is normal with everyone going about their daily routines” she explains. “Turkey is going through turbulent times at the moment but there is no need for foreigners to worry about their safety. It is still business as normal for tourism and hotels, bars, restaurants, and shops are still open. You will still be able to lie on the beach, visit local landmarks, historical sites, shop for souvenirs, or simply live it up in your favourite nightclub or bar.”
It is business as usual for tour operators as well, as Michael Fleetwood, Europe product manager for Cox and Kings, explains: “The recent events in parts of Turkey have no effect at all in terms of our operation. The FCO advice remains unchanged so all our tours will operate as normal. However, as with any global incident, adverse media coverage will inevitably create consumer concerns. Cox & Kings follows the advice of the FCO very closely and if anything changes and they advise against travel to a region that we send tourists to, then it is our responsibility to change client’s arrangements accordingly. We have a group tour departing this week as planned, and clients in the country, and will continue to monitor the situation very closely. All our clients are given a 24-hour mobile number, which is looked after by a duty manager, and our ground teams are also able to update us on local events.”
For those travelling independently the same advice applies. The situation can change and it’s wise to keep a close eye on the latest news and follow the updates on the FCO website.