Sunday 18 March 2018

Turkey Shoot: Will a 'summer of shocks' put us off sun holidays?

The heat is on

After the slaughter: Troops patrol Promenade des Anglais in Nice.
After the slaughter: Troops patrol Promenade des Anglais in Nice.
Turkey trip: Limerick model Judy Fitzgerald was close to the coup
Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

Irish tourists have been close to a terror attack in Nice and caught up in a coup in Istanbul. Now a big tour operator has collapsed, too. Will it put us off sun holidays?

It has been described as a "summer of shocks" for the travel industry.

Coming in the same week as the horrific killing spree in Nice and the coup in Turkey, the collapse of the tour operator Lowcostholidays has brought a mood of instability to the tourism sector.

As many as 15,000 Irish holidaymakers could be affected by the sudden closure of the online travel company, and some will be lucky to get any kind of refund at all.

With so many incidents happening this summer, and a spate of terrorist attacks, one might have expected that holidaymakers would be tempted to stay at home.

That may be true of Americans and visitors from other continents, but Irish holidaymakers are still keen to get away to other destinations in Europe, according to Cormac Meehan, president of the Irish Travel Agents Association (ITAA).

Turkey trip: Limerick model Judy Fitzgerald was close to the coup
Turkey trip: Limerick model Judy Fitzgerald was close to the coup

"Travel agents have seen an increase in bookings of between 12pc and 15pc in the year to date," says Meehan. "There is very little late availability on foreign holidays."

Instead of staying at home, travellers are choosing their destinations more carefully, and sticking to the Western Mediterranean, rather than resorts further East.

Before last weekend's coup, bookings to Turkey had already fallen dramatically, and Irish tourism to Tunisia and Egypt has been virtually wiped out. However, until now, Irish holidaymakers have not been deterred from visiting France.

"When they had the terrorist attacks in France, the expectation was that numbers going to France would fall away," says Meehan. "Irish people are more resilient than tourists from most other countries and are not easily deterred. People lived through the Troubles."

Irish holidaymakers may still go to France, because they are more ­familiar with a country close to home. But how long will that willingness continue if there are more attacks on the scale of Nice?

If tourism to France collapsed, it could have a catastrophic effect on its economy. France remains the most visited country in the world, with 85 million visitors per year.

In Turkey, bomb attacks and political instability are having a more profound impact on booking numbers, because Irish tourists are less familiar with the country.

Last year, up to 100,000 Irish tourists travelled to the country, and most headed to its Mediterranean and Aegean beaches. But bookings are way down this year.

Carlow travel agent Joe Tully says: "Bookings to Turkey are about one quarter of what they were a year ago."

Ankara, the capital, was hit by bomb attacks in February that killed 65 people, and Istanbul has also been struck.

Limerick model Judy Fitzgerald tells Review she wanted to cancel her flights to Istanbul when 41 people were killed in a bombing at the airport in June, but went ahead with the holiday when she didn't get a refund and was reassured it was safe.

She found herself close to the action during the coup, waking to find the balcony doors in her Istanbul hotel shaking, helicopters flying overhead and the sound of gunshots and people screaming in the streets.

"I was terrified. I only went out for a few seconds. When I saw police running towards me with guns I ran back to the hotel," says Judy.

Although the coup was quickly thwarted, the Department of Foreign Affairs warns: "Our advice to Irish citizens in Turkey or intending to travel to Turkey is to exercise a high degree of caution. The situation in Ankara and Istanbul in particular remains tense... The threat from terrorism in Turkey remains high."

Travel agents report that the troubles in the Eastern Mediterranean have boosted destinations such as Spain, Portugal, Italy and Croatia.

Some in the travel trade predict a massive hike in prices in the destinations that are seen as safe as hotels, restaurants and bars exploit soaring demand.

While Europeans are continuing to go on foreign holidays, the Financial Times reported that visitors from far-flung destinations such as China and the US are either postponing or abandoning trips altogether.

Brexit has also shaken the travel industry in Britain, and may have played a role in the collapse of Lowcostholidays. The sudden drop in the value of Sterling after the vote to quit the EU has made the cost of a foreign holiday much more expensive for British consumers.

As it went into administration, the Lowcostholidays Group cited the "recent and ongoing turbulent financial environment". In Britain, it was reported that holidaymakers who booked with the company would only receive £7.50 in compensation.

In Ireland, the picture is different, as the company is bonded with the Commission for Aviation Regulation.

If holidaymakers booked a package with flight and accommodation, they can claim the money back from the Commission. However, if the booking was for accommodation only, they cannot claim back the cost from the commission.

The holiday trade is highly volatile, often depending on the strength of the economy and the perceived danger of visiting a country. If there are terrorist attacks in a country, holidaymakers may decide not to travel.

But how realistic is our perception of danger?

Many tourists think of terrorism and flying as the dangerous parts of a foreign holiday, when the real risk is more likely to be on the roads.

Travel writer Simon Calder has noted that even in a year such as 2015, in which 30 British holidaymakers were murdered on the beach at Sousse in Tunisia, 10 times as many UK travellers perished on foreign roads.

American visitors cancel their European holidays out of fear of terrorism, when statistically they face a much greater danger from gun crime and road accidents in their home country.

Nevertheless, with events happening on the scale of the Nice attacks and the Turkish coup, it is understandable that tourists are now a lot more cautious.

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