Iranians Seek Alternatives

Iranians Seek AlternativesIranians Seek Alternatives

The most recent terrorist incident in Turkey, which involved a gun and bomb attack on Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, has raised concerns among Iranian tourists and tour operators, compelling them to look for alternative destinations.

On Tuesday, self-styled Islamic State terrorists unleashed a heinous attack on Ataturk Airport, the third busiest in Europe, killing 44 and injuring 239 in one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in Turkey’s recent history. An Iranian died in the attack, while five others were wounded.

Turkish tourism had already been battered by a spate of attacks in recent months targeting major cities and tourist attractions, prompting numerous western states, including the US, a staunch ally of Ankara, to issue travel warnings against the Near East country.

The shooting down of a Russian fighter jet last November had deepened the political rift between Russia and Turkey, resulting in Russian President Vladimir Putin banning all flights to Turkey.

These led to a massive drop in Turkey’s year-on-year arrivals, falling 34.5% in May.

The Kremlin lifted the ban last week following a letter of apology from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is desperate to get Russians back into his country as they make up the bulk of foreign tourists in Turkey.

However, Iranians, who are among the top five contributors to Turkey’s tourism sector, may be looking elsewhere to blow off steam, especially since the Iranian Embassy in Ankara issued a travel advisory on Thursday urging people to take precautions and avoid crowded areas.

“Tour operators cannot keep losing money because of canceled trips to Turkey, so they’re looking for alternatives,” says Reza Abazari, chairman of the board of the Tehran Tour and Travel Agencies’ Association.

  Azerbaijan in Contention

Turkey and Iran share a land border, which makes traveling to Turkey easy and quick. Furthermore, Turkey offers visa-free travel to Iranians for up to 90 days, which has helped turn Turkey into a top foreign destination for Iranians.

In 2015, Turkey attracted more than 1.7 million tourists from Iran.

“An alternative destination must have three main features to be able to replace Turkey: it must offer quality services, be affordable and issue visas without hassle,” Abazari told Fars News Agency.

“Access to the beach and shopping centers are other features that Iranians care about.”

Put together, the Republic of Azerbaijan, which shares a border with Iran, becomes the prime choice.

“The Azeris are trying to topple Turkey and become the number one tourism spot for Iranians,” he added.

  No Data on Cancellations

At the time of writing, there are no exact figures on the number of canceled trips to Turkey, according to Mohammad Hassan Kermani, director of the Association of Air Transport and Tourism Agencies of Iran.

“It’s only natural for people to put safety first and cancel trips, but right now it’s difficult to tell how many have canceled their plans and how many have rescheduled,” he told ISNA.

Following Tuesday’s attack, tour packages saw a noticeable drop in prices, which Kermani says is a “logical tactic” to cut losses.

“Travel agencies in Iran have certain financial obligations toward Turkish hotels and firms. So when trips are canceled, tour operators incur losses. The reduction in prices is due to travel agencies reducing their own fees and Turkish hotels offering discounts, to the tune of even 40%,” he said.

Nevertheless, would-be tourists are not fully reimbursed due to a clause in the contracts they sign with tour operators.

“Depending on when the trip is canceled, clients are partially reimbursed, or not at all,” Abazari says.

According to ISNA, travelers are refunded a maximum of 80% if they cancel early.