Bombs. Explosions. Terrorist attacks. Watching the news really makes you wonder – is it safe to travel to Turkey?
I’ll be honest – when I was invited to visit Istanbul this November, I had to think about it for a minute. Was this the right time to go? Should I wait a few months and see how the political situation was developing?
I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, because I should have known better. Not because I’m a travel blogger, but because I’ve seen how the media works from the inside.
Aside from writing for various websites I used to work as a broadcast journalist for a Russian TV network. My time there wasn’t long, but it was long enough to form a proper understanding of how things are done. As you’ve probably guessed, the reality is not pretty…
If It Bleeds, It Leads
My job was straightforward. I had to trawl through breaking news from all around the globe, find the most newsworthy stories and convert them into short segments for the anchors. What makes a story newsworthy? As my editor told me on my first day, “if it bleeds it leads”.
It’s a cliche, but it’s a cliche for a reason. Working the nightshift I would spend hours in a windowless room reading about human tragedy. Paradoxically, the worse a story was the better it would do – and the more I read the more desensitised I became.
I transformed dozens of dead human beings into “casualties” on paper, while the monsters who murdered them in cold blood became “perpetrators”. You’ve guessed right, it wasn’t a good time for my mental wellbeing.
But what does any of this have to do with Turkey? I’m getting there.
From newspapers to news channels, the media is a money-making industry. Thousands of well-meaning journalists around the world try to report the facts accurately, but their employers can’t afford honesty. The truth must be embellished, sensationalised and moulded into a conveniently simple story that will sell.
Sadly for Turkey, the story the media has chosen for it is one of death, torture and constant political turmoil. Never mind that many parts of the country are completely untouched by terrorist activity. People want an overview of world news in five minutes and to achieve that there’s simply no time for accuracy.
Turkey’s Tourism Nightmare
Unsurprisingly most people would rather not spend their precious time off work in a war zone, so tourism to Turkey has dropped dramatically. I’m not saying Turkey actually is or feels like a war zone… but the mainstream doesn’t differentiate.
No one bothers to remind us that the beachy resorts in Antalya or picturesque mountains in Göreme are safe – the whole country is lumped into one hazmat suit and marked with a skull and crossbones.
Unsurprisingly this had led to a big drop in tourism, an industry which contributes to more than 10% of the country’s GDP. This has been the worst summer the Turkish tourism industry has experienced in 25 years. Even in June, a month before the attempted military coup, there was a 41% fall in the number of visitors compared with 2015 – and that number is increasing every month.
Experts predict that Turkey could lose $25 billion in tourism revenue by the end of 2016. Some people go as far as declaring that Turkey’s tourism chapter is ending. But is postponing or cancelling travel plans necessary? Here is a brief overview of my time in the country.
The Reality Of Travel In Turkey
What is travelling to Turkey really like at the moment? Incredible. During my time in Istanbul and Cappadocia, I encountered the best hospitality I’ve ever witnessed anywhere in the world. If anything, the current lack of tourists has made most people in the industry even kinder and friendlier than usual.
Turkish hospitality employees are eager to please, but not too eager. Yes, restaurant touts will try to get you to dine with them with hilarious one-liners. But if you say no they will not persist which was a big relief to me.
Walking around the streets of Istanbul I often felt like I was the only visitor in sight. But while I love having a destination all to myself it felt strangely deserted. At first sight everything seemed jolly good, with rows of restaurants full of smiling waiters and glossy menus. But a closer look revealed they were all empty inside and I could see a twinge sadness in the servers’ eyes whenever I walked past without sitting down to eat.
This was my first time in the country so unfortunately I don’t have much to compare my recent trip to, but it’s definitely not business as usual. Take the Grand Bazaar for example. The place is famous for attracting hordes of tourists yet when I was there it felt… empty. As I later found out, more than 600 of its shops have closed down this year because they weren’t profitable enough.
That’s the sad reality of tourism in Turkey right now. But should it be?
Is It Safe To Travel To Turkey?
Let’s start with the obvious. Yes, Turkey is in a bad way right now. It is experiencing severe political upheaval, tragic acts of terrorism and there is a lot of uncertainty at the moment.
Is it possible that you will be hurt in one of these terrorist attacks? Of course. This is not only the case in Turkey – it’s true of every single place on Earth. But is it likely? Not. At. All.
Here are a few other scenarios, all of which are statistically much more probable… You have a one in 99,000 chance of dying in a building fire, one in 800,000 chance of drowning in your bathtub and one in 5.5 million chance of being struck by lightning. Your risk of dying from terrorism? One in 12.5 million. (source)
There is a multitude of reasons why the media and politicians want us to worry about terrorism. I won’t go into them here because that’s a conversation for another time, but let me just ask you a few questions.
How often does the media warn you not to bathe? Why is a fire drill met with laughter but a mother in a hijab riding the bus gets stink eye from half the passengers anytime she reaches inside her purse? What’s the last time you stayed up late, worrying about death by lightning – a fate twice as likely as being blown up by anti-government militia?
I’m obviously not likening bathtubs to terrorists, but silly as they may be these are questions worth thinking about. If newspapers and our democratically-elected representatives truly cared, shouldn’t they focus on curbing the major (and very preventable) killers like junk food overconsumption or skin cancer from too much sun exposure?
All of this is not to underplay the gravity of terrorist attacks. Terrorism truly is as terrible as its name suggests. But a disgusting cowardly attack can happen anywhere as this year’s attacks in Paris and Brussels clearly showed.
I don’t want fear to stop you from seeing this beautiful planet of ours. By all means, be cautious. Unless you’re a dedicated humanitarian worker I would recommend staying away from areas around the Syrian border (as seen on this map) which have been experiencing a lot of violence.
But don’t let the media fill you with dread. Regular people like you and I lead a regular existence in Turkey. And I mean regular as in – they hang out in Starbucks with their friends, they watch reality TV and wonder if they should ask out that person they can get off their mind.
None of the locals I’ve spoken to seemed particularly concerned about their safety. Their hearts break for the victims of needless crimes but there is no feeling of panic in the air. Should you be terrified of visiting Turkey – or any other such country – while they live there day by day? The answer is completely up to you, but for me it’s a clear no.
In short, is it safe to travel to Turkey? Safety is a subjective matter, closely tied to our past experiences and current circumstances. But as a young white woman who lives in a neighbourhood where the biggest crime is not picking up your dog’s poop, I say YES.
Have you ever been to Turkey? Would you visit the country right now or are you worried about your safety?