Istanbul: Turkey is currently encouraging Omani travellers to return as tourists so they might explore the country’s history, food and culture, travel experts say.
“We invite our guests from Oman to travel to Turkey without any security fears. We assure them that life goes on as normal and all tourist facilities are being operated without any cancellations or delays,” said Meryem Yildiz, managing partner of Sunset Cruise, one of the city’s largest cruise companies.
Despite being in a state of emergency since July 21 due to a failed military coup, Turkey has rebounded very quickly and people all over the country, especially in Istanbul, are going about their daily lives.
From flights to daily boat cruises to guided tours and hotel occupancies- everything is back to normal and tourists, especially Arabs and Middle Eastern tourists, are making their way to Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, with a population of over 18 million people, along with an additional refugee population estimated at over three million.
Turkey is a popular destination among both citizens and residents living in Oman.
Bader Al Lawati, an Omani photographer loves Turkey for the specific purpose of photography, “For a photographer, Turkey has a wealth of photography opportunities, if you are interested in landscapes, rich waterfalls and if you are a food photographer, then there would be no better place.”
Maria Sarfaraz, another Omani who went to Turkey in 2011 with her family, says that the place was very beautiful. “What I loved most was that it looks like Europe, feels like a Muslim country, and has halal food and is extremely beautiful, I would definitely go back.”
Shaista Parveen and Arshia Mangalorkar both long term residents of Oman visited Turkey with their families and would go back any day. “I would go back any day, it is beautiful,” said Shaista.
Meryem further said that because of the attempted coup, Turkey’s image had fallen, and they are now working to return it to normal.
“I am sure travellers to Istanbul and Turkey, in general, have experienced the normalcy, but some people think that there is a civil war and a chaotic situation due to the state of emergency. At the TURSAB (Association of Turkish Travel Agencies) and its tourism committee, we started an image campaign with all our travel agencies to rebuild our image.
“We had organised our Bosphorus tour on the night of the coup attempt, but the very next day we cancelled all our tours in order not to take any risks. However, starting on Sunday, July 17, we resumed all cruises again.”
According to Meryem, when compared with 2015, visitors to Turkey have fallen by about 75 per cent. “We have a decrease of 75 per cent in visitor numbers. This year, 95 per cent of our guest profile is Middle Eastern and Iranian, whereas last year we had many European guests, as well,” said Meryem.
On the night of the coup attempt, Meryem was in Taksim having a business dinner at a restaurant when her brother called and informed her about the situation.
“We waited at the restaurant for a while, and as transportation was stopped and I had to spend the night in the office, which was a short distance from the restaurant. It was definitely a nightmare for all of us. Soldiers were stationed in some of the busiest parts of the city and, in some cases, they fired at people. As a result of this we lost some 270 lives. At some points, jet planes were flying low, so hearing the noise of jets and watching the shooting at civilians was quite traumatic.”
Further, she recalled how people went out onto the streets to stop the soldiers. “This is a critical point, because the Turkish nation did not give in to this coup attempt, but maintained the democracy, ”she recalled.
“The state of emergency has not affected life on the streets and there is no restriction on civilians. The purpose of recent decisions was to find those involved in the coup and punish them.
“Unfortunately, in the last year we had some terrorist attacks, which have thrown the tourism industry into crisis. However, when all is done, life goes on normally in every part of Turkey. The political parties put aside political tensions and gathered under democracy, so all these reactions helped restore peace and normalcy.
Fatma, a young woman from Kuwait who was staying at one of the mid-luxury hotels in Istanbul with her family said, “My family love Istanbul, despite the situation in mid-July, we chose to come here because I asked people I know here about the security. Only yesterday we went to Taksim square and Istiklal Street next to it, and found that the area was full of life and excitement,”
Further, Mustafa Dumankalkti, operations manager with Helen Holidays, one of the largest tour operators in Turkey, said there was an impact for a short period after the failed coup, however, tourists are once again coming back due to the return of normality.
“There has been a minimum drop of 50 per cent, compared with 2015, but after the coup we only had about 10 to 15 per cent of people postponing their travels, and the demand seems to now be better than before. After the failed coup, people had safety concerns, but we didn’t hear such concerns and questions after people saw that daily public life and tourist activities were not affected.
“I want to tell travellers from Oman that daily life is continuing in a safe way and nothing has been affected, so there is no reason to change tourist itineraries, for Turkey is as safe as any other tourist destinations in the world,” noted Mustafa.
Deniz Met, Director of Marketing at Raffles Istanbul, one of the city’s most luxurious hotels, said that after the attempted coup their first priority was to keep their guests safe and to remain inside the hotel.
“We kept our guests in safety inside the hotel, but in less than a day things returned to normal. Also, those flights that were cancelled due to the attempted coup started to operate as usual, so there was probably a delay in flights of not more than 24 hours.
“The attempt is a political one, so the state of emergency that was announced was not meant to limit the freedom of social life, and, obviously, the traffic that we receive from GCC countries is continuing.
“Although our main markets are the GCC, Europe and USA, for the moment the main focus is on the GCC market,” she added.
Last Sunday, more than one million people attended a pro-democracy rally in Istanbul following the failed coup attempt last month.