Correction: The number of foreign visitors declined by 30 percent, not 10 percent as originally stated
By JOSH FRIEDMAN
Want to visit Istanbul and stay in a room overlooking the sea for less then $20 a night? Now is your chance, and time is running out.
Recent turmoil in Turkey has caused tourism to plummet, and hotel prices have likewise plunged. That has come at a time when Turkey’s currency, the lira, has declined sharply in value against the dollar and euro.
In 2016, Turkey suffered a 30 percent drop in the arrival of foreign visitors, and tourism revenue likewise fell by 30 percent from the previous year. Over the last three years, the lira has fallen from approximately 2 to the dollar to nearly 4 to the dollar. The lira currently stands at 3.75 to the dollar.
On a trip to Istanbul last month, I stayed in a hotel room overlooking the Sea of Marmara on the historic peninsula for less than $17 a night. That included breakfast and 24/7 access to a terrace with a sea view on one side and a view of the historic Sultan Ahmed mosque on the other side.
Hotel workers in the area told me lodging prices had plummeted 75 percent or more.
In mid-March, lodging prices in Istanbul remain very low. But, with winter season drawing to a close, tourism will increase and prices will rise, in spite of the ongoing turmoil.
Next month, Turkey will hold a referendum that calls for changing the constitution and transforming the country’s government from a parliamentary system to a presidential system. If the referendum passes, some of the political tension could decrease. However, Turkey’s Kurdish conflict is far from resolved, and Kurdish militants continue to pose a terror threat. So do Islamic State jihadists at a time when Turkey is involved militarily in Syria.
Recently, most terror attacks and armed clashes in Turkey have been centered in the predominantly Kurdish southeast region of the country. But, over the past year and a half, Kurdish and IS terrorists have created several bloodbaths in Istanbul, as well as Ankara, in which civilians, and even tourists, have been killed.
The probability of tourists being killed or injured in terror attacks in Turkey is very low. But, the chance does exist, and high profile attacks in Istanbul — such as last June’s bombing and shooting at Ataturk Airport and the New Year’s 2017 shooting at the Reina nightclub — have caused many tourists to shy away from Turkey.
“An unprecedented wave of terrorist attacks kept tourists away from Turkey,” a recent International Monetary Fund report stated. “Studies show that the recovery is likely to be slow as repeated incidents of violence tend to have a long-lasting effect on tourist arrivals.”
A 10 percent decline in foreign arrivals translates to a .3 to .5 percent drop in Turkey’s GDP, according to IMF estimates. The decrease in tourism is also impacting other areas of the economy, according to the IMF.
During my recent stay in Istanbul, it appeared restaurant prices were rising — but not at the pace the lira had been devaluing.
In addition to terror attacks, there was a coup attempt in Turkey last summer. More than 300 people died as Turkish tanks rolled through city streets, including in Istanbul and Ankara. The coup failed, but the country has since remained in a state of emergency that has resulted in thousands of arrests.
When walking around Istanbul, though, it does not feel like there is a state of emergency. Life seems, at least to me, to be pretty normal.
One advantage Turkey presents tourists is that the country is very accessible. Passport holders from the majority of countries worldwide enjoy either visa-free or e-visa access to Turkey.
U.S. citizens and some Europeans must obtain an e-visa prior to entering Turkey. But, the process is simple and only costs about $20.
Likewise, it is easy to fly in and out of Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport, so long as images of last summer’s chaos do not give you goose bumps.
Now may be your best opportunity to visit Turkey on the cheap.
For your viewing pleasure, some background on Istanbul and its beauty, history and prime location: