Tourism minister calls for defense of ‘freedom of travel’ amid downturn
ISTANBUL – Anadolu Agency
AA photoTourism Minister Mahir Ünal has called on local and foreign industry representatives to “defend freedom of travel” against threats posed by terrorism, as the Turkish tourism industry continues to feel the chill of geopolitical uncertainty.
“We need to defend our freedom of travel and spirit of tourism as part of the fight against terrorism, which aims to prevent our freedom by creating fear and security concerns,” Ünal told the opening session of a major two-day tourism event in Istanbul.
“The most significant driving force of peace, brotherhood and unity is tourism,” he said.
The World Tourism Forum Global Meeting 2016 is expected to attract thousands of industry figures to Turkey’s largest city.
Ünal said tourism should be supported regardless of the problems between states, in an apparent reference to recent tensions between Turkey and Russia.
Moscow recently re-imposed visa requirements on Turkish citizens.
“Tourism, which has a positive impact on international relations, should not be used as a way of imposing sanctions,” Ünal said.
Jose Manuel Barroso, who served as president of the European Commission between 2004 and 2014, said at the forum that tourism was the “most important sector” in Europe after trade and construction.
“Tourism is a major economic activity with positive impacts on the economy and specifically on employment,” Barroso said, adding that tourism represents 10 percent of European GDP and provides 12 percent of jobs.
On the issue of security, he said “the massive inflow of refugees and illegal migrants are now posing real trouble for Europe” but stressed that curtailing freedom of movement and closing borders would be a “mistake.”
“That is exactly what the terrorists want: To put pressure on our lives and the open societies that we have,” he said.
Barroso stressed the need for unity against terrorism, saying he “frankly believes” that the future of the tourism sector is promising despite existing problems across the world. “We have watched the great development of tourism industry in Turkey,” he added.
Serge Trigano, the president of the international hotel chain Mama Shelter, also thinks Turkey has “great tourism advantages” and is a key destination, despite problems in the country.
Trigano also described Turkey’s national flag carrier, Turkish Airlines, as “one of the most successful airlines in the world.”
Turkish Airlines currently has a network of more than 280 direct flights and travels to more countries than any other airline, connecting Istanbul with five continents. Istanbul currently serves international airlines at its two airports. A third airport planned for 2019 will cater to 150 million passengers, making Istanbul the largest airline hub in the world.
The tourism forum’s opening session on Feb. 4 also hosted Basaran Ulusoy, the president of the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TURSAB), and Mark Tanzer, the CEO of the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA).
The forum, bringing together tourism organizers, CEOs, and travel agencies, will run until Feb. 6.