Conflicts hit tourism in Turkey’s eastern region

Conflicts hit tourism in Turkey’s eastern region

Conflicts hit tourism in Turkey’s eastern region

A man takes pictures of the damaged walls of a mosque with his mobile phone in Sur district in the southeastern city of Diyarbakır. REUTERS photo

Escalating conflicts have hit the tourism sector in Turkey’s eastern region after June 7 elections and a peace process bid gone wrong. 

After decades of violence, the region had hoped for a reprieve for its economy in 2012, when a peace process started to end a conflict that has killed more than 40,000 people. Thousands of tourists flocked to the region, attracted by its many historical and cultural sites, but this positive atmosphere has ended. 

Many tours and reservations have been canceled and there has been a sharp decline in the number of tourists visiting the region due to escalating violence, according to sector representatives. 

“The resumption [of fighting] has hit us hard,” said Ahmet Önen, as quoted by Agence France-Presse.  

“Our revenue has fallen close to 80 percent compared with last year,” added Önen, who has a boutique selling souvenirs and traditional Kurdish outfits in a 16th-century Ottoman building in the city of Diyarbakır.
 “The tourism heart no longer beats here,” he noted. 

Around 260,000 tourists visited Diyarbakır in 2014, according to data from the Tourism Ministry. A 100 percent increase in foreign tourists and 40 percent increase in the number of local tourists were seen between 2012 and 2014 in the city compared to previous years, according to tourism representatives. These figures have now plunged, they added. 

“People are afraid,” said Umut Bacı, a 24-year-old jeweler, as quoted by AFP. 

“Clients call us before they come shopping to know if anything has happened,” he said at his shop. 

“For the past two years, work was good. People went for walks in the streets. But today, nobody comes out anymore,” he added. 

Hotel investments ‘halved or halted’

One of the worst-hit provinces has been the eastern province of Mardin, which is famous for its food as well as its architectural appearance. 

Around 339,000 people visited Mardin in 2013, according to data compiled by Anadolu Agency. This figure rose by 15 percent to around 390,000 last year compared to 2013. The number of tourists visiting the city has, however, decreased by 33 percent over this year. A total of 202,777 local tourists and 21,842 foreign tourists visited the city, according to official data. The number of tourists visiting the city saw over 40 percent of decrease in the July, August and September period of this year, compared to the same period of 2014. 

“Our loss is around 80 percent in the sector now. Many tourism projects have been halved or halted. This year is a loss year for us. We hope the next year will not be,” said the head of the Mardin Tourism and Hoteliers Association (MARTOD), Özgür Azad Güngör, as quoted by Anadolu Agency. 

“Construction work at three hotels has been stopped due to security concerns. There are six new hotel projects and most probably, these projects will be canceled. Nobody can make an investment in the region in such a chaotic environment,” he added.