Photographer: Kostas Tsironis/Bloomberg

German-Turkish Tensions May Further Shift Europe Tourism Map

  • Foreign Office in Berlin tells Germans to be careful in Turkey
  • Political disagreements over Erdogan’s referendum campaign

Rising political tensions between Germany and Turkey are threatening to further disrupt travel between the two countries and exacerbate the Mediterranean country’s tourism slump.

Germans, who once made up the biggest group of visitors to Turkey, are advised to take “increasing care” on trips there after German nationals were imprisoned “without comprehensible reason and duration,” according to an advisory from the Foreign Office in Berlin on Thursday. Turkey arrested several human-rights activists last week, including a German citizen, on charges of supporting terrorism.

Turkey has already lost about $12 billion in receipts from foreign tourists within two years, with their numbers dropping by more than 10 million in 2016 alone to 25.3 million people. Average expenditure per visitor plunged more than 22 percent over two years, figures from Turkey’s Culture and Tourism Ministry show.

While stopping shy of strictly advising against travel to Turkey, the Foreign Office’s message coincides with a German government warning to companies against doing business there. For tour operators like TUI AG or Thomas Cook Group Plc, whose biggest customer base is German, that could push more sun-seekers to shift bookings away from the Bosporus toward the already crowded beaches of Spain and Greece.

Tensions between Turkey and its western neighbors have flared in recent months after governments including Germany and the Netherlands accused President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of inciting their immigrant Turkish populations to support the expansion of his executive powers in a referendum. The political situation in Turkey “remains tense,” the German Foreign Office said in its advisory.

Among the top 10 nationalities visiting Turkey, German and Dutch citizens posted the biggest declines. Both countries have large immigrant Turkish populations, and their governments worry that Erdogan is politicizing them with his electioneering.

The number of Russians is rising sharply after restrictions on their entry to Turkey ended. Russians had been banned from visiting Turkey for most of last year after Erdogan had a Russian bomber shot down near the border to war-torn Syria.

Visitors from Greece and France dropped out of the top 10 entirely in past years, while Turkey had more guests from nations including Iran, Iraq and neighboring Azerbaijan and Georgia.

Tour operators generally follow the advice of their guests’ government, meaning they will stop selling package tours to a country following a travel warning, and even fly out vacationers on site at their expense while often also allowing re-bookings or cancellations free of charge for some time.

TUI spokesman Kuzey Esener said while short-term bookings to Turkey had recently increased slightly, the overall trend was still down. Thomas Cook spokeswoman Theite Kraemer said the company’s normal booking and cancellation rules apply.

Germany’s travel association DRV said that, as the Foreign Office hadn’t issued a travel warning, tours will happen as booked and the usual fees apply should guests wish to make changes.

— With assistance by Tugce Ozsoy

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