Probably like you, I have a high aversion to mortal risk and a low tolerance of anything that could harm my family – but I also believe that travel is almost always a benign and rewarding experience, both for the traveller and for the host community. So last January, the peak sales month for summer holidays, I booked a family holiday on Turkey’s glorious southern coast.
One week earlier, 10 members of a German tour group had died in a suicide bomb attack in Sultanahmet Square in the heart of Istanbul. Each of those lost lives, taken by an amateur fascist intent on spreading hate and division, was a tragedy. But set against the millions who visit Turkey’s largest city each year, and millions more who holiday on the coast, the chances of coming to harm on a package holiday to a resort remained extremely low.
Many British families, however, disagreed. In March, the tour operator wrote to say: “Whilst Turkey remains a popular destination for UK holidaymakers, in common with other travel companies, we are seeing lower demand this year.” Our chosen property was one of several that would remain closed. We ended up in Greece instead, inadvertently contributing to the collapse of around half of the Turkish tourist economy.
Since then, mass slaughter has become a regular occurrence. Attacks in Istanbul, the capital Ankara and elsewhere have claimed hundreds of victims.
A massacre at Istanbul’s main airport in June killed more than 40 people. Two months later, even people died in a blast at a wedding in the south-eastern city of Gaziantep. Inevitably, the former caught the world’s attention – and mine. And last night, 39 people were shot dead while celebrating in an Istanbul nightclub. Many prospective visitors to Turkey will be shocked by a New Year massacre on the shores of the Bosphorus.
Risk-assessing Turkey is complicated because there are many enemies of civilisation, tolerance and freedom. Perpetrators of terrorist attacks include Isis, Kurdish separatists and two far-left political factions.
Without wishing to diminish the scale of the atrocities in cities near the Syrian border, I have focused on the chances that places on the tourist trail will be hit. Istanbul is a great global metropolis. Races and religions have converged on the city through the centuries, as a hub along the Silk Road and the Hippie Trail. Increasingly, though, it looks a shaken, vulnerable place. People are staying away. Tonight, you can get a luxury room at a top hotel, the Conrad Istanbul Bosphorus, for £72 – less than the cost of a Premier Inn in London.
I look forward to returning to Turkey soon, because the best way to counter random violence is to assert its futility by not changing your behaviour. The risks of a holiday in Turkey remain low, with road accidents presenting more of a danger than deranged gunmen or terror attacks.
This vast country has welcoming people, a rich heritage. fabulous cuisine and great beaches. But as millions of British families begin the midwinter search for a sunny escape, their fears may steer them elsewhere.