ISTANBUL — Tuesday’s attacks at Istanbul’s main airport threaten to plunge the country’s already suffering economy and tourism further into the abyss.
In one of the deadliest terror attacks in Turkey to date, 41 people reportedly have died — 13 of whom were foreign nationals — and more than 145 injured after three suicide bombers opened fire and detonated explosives.
In subsequent attacks, one of the assailants blew himself up near the security checkpoint outside the international arrivals terminal shortly before two other suicide bombers pulled their automatic rifles and fired on people on the floor above at the departures terminal, news reports said.
A popular destination with a growing array of retail attractions, Turkey this year might lose at least 40 percent of the 37 million visitors it attracted in 2014, news reports claim.
Foreign arrivals to Turkey fell 7 percent in April, according to the Turkish Tourism Ministry.
“Following previous attacks in Istanbul, we witnessed a decline in retail sales in domestic purchase as well as purchases of visitors from the Middle Eastern and western countries, but it quickly picked up,” said Sami Kariyo, president of the United Brands Association, which represents a vast variety of Turkish brands with more than $40 billion in total revenues.
“There might be a decline in tourism figures in the beginning, but I believe it would not continue for long,” he continued. “The best response to attacks like yesterday’s is to continue our daily lives.”
But tourism investors appeared less optimistic about the near future.
“We do not expect any foreign tourism this year after resonant effects of the attacks abroad,” said Burak Guzeloglu, a tour operator based in Ankara.
“Domestic tourism might continue at its moderate levels when bookings for this summer were pretty much completed and working people already set their holiday time,” he added.
Retail and tourism operators had breathed a sigh of relief earlier this week, when Turkey apologized for the downing of a Russian war plane near the Syrian border late last year. That incident had crimped Russian visits to Turkey, and stymied a vibrant textile trade between the two nations.
Istanbul airport’s airspace was immediately shut down until 5 a.m. local time on Wednesday, while flights were diverted to Sabiha Gokcen Airport on the city’s Asia side.
The U.S. has issued several advisories for citizens traveling to Turkey in recent months, warning against terror threats in cities like Istanbul and Ankara, often eyed by the PKK, a separatist Kurdish group, the ISIS which is active along the country’s southern borders to Iraq and Syria, as well as DHKP-C, an extreme leftist militant group.
Istanbul, the country’s economic hub and a tourism magnet, has already been hit three times since the beginning of this year, two of which were conducted by ISIS while Turkey continued to fight the group in Iraq and Syria as a member of the U.S.-led coalition.
The third attack by Kurdish militants in early June occurred next to the city’s historical textile district, killing eleven people and distressing textile wholesalers that already suffered given the diplomatic crisis with Russia, Turkey’s second trading and tourism partner. More than 4 million Russian visitors arrived in 2014.