Turkey tourism dives amid security fears

Turkish police guarding the St Antouan Church in Istanbul on March 26, 2016.
Turkish police guarding the St Antouan Church in Istanbul on March 26, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

ISTANBUL (AFP) - Visitor numbers to Turkey plunged by over 10 per cent in February, the government said Tuesday (March 29), as tourism was hit by a crisis in relations with Russia and security fears after a series of attacks.

The number of foreigners entering Turkey fell 10.32 per cent in February from the same period the year earlier, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism said in its latest monthly statistics.

Tourism from Russia recorded one of the biggest falls amid the crisis in relations following Turkey's shooting down of a Russian war plane in November, with visitor numbers plunging over 51.5 per cent.

Georgians - who frequently head over the land border on shopping trips - were the most frequent visitors to Turkey, followed by Germans and Iranians, it said.

Tourism from Iran was one of the few sectors to show an upsurge, with visitor numbers rising almost 17 per cent in the period.

The figures were recorded before the latest attacks in Turkey in March which saw 38 killed in Ankara in a suicide car bombing claimed by Kurdish militants and three Israelis and an Iranian killed in a suicide attack in Istanbul blamed on IS terrorists.

Israel on Monday advised all its citizens to leave Turkey, citing the potential for attacks.

But visitors had already been rattled by a January attack in the tourist district of Sultanahmet blamed on IS that killed a dozen German tourists.

Tourism is a mainstay of the Turkish economy and the government is working hard to limit the potential losses ahead of the crucial summer season.

According to official statistics, foreign tourism brought in almost US$31.5 billion (S$43.9 billion) in revenues in 2015.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu last month announced a multi-million-dollar aid package for the struggling tourism industry to help struggling firms and restructure debt.