The ‘Arab Spring’ is fuelling a Turkish summer as Saudis, Kuwaitis and other tourists from the Gulf states who would have previously spent summers in Syria or Egypt look further north.
Figures from the Turkish ministry of culture and tourism show bookings from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are up by 75 per cent and, with the beginning of Ramazan days away, hotels in Istanbul and the north-western city of Bursa are fully booked.
Turkey’s new wave of Arab visitors in part attribute their presence in the country down to the instability in their usual summer holiday destinations.
“We come here now because there is so much trouble in other Arab countries,” said Muhammad al-Menhali from Abu Dhabi, who was in Turkey for the first time with his wife Imad and baby son. “We usually go to Egypt, but we feel safer in Turkey.” In the Grand Bazaar in the historical Sultanahmet district of Istanbul, shopkeepers said they had noticed a significant increase in Arab tourists over the last year. “I like Turkey so much. The country feels familiar; I don’t feel like a stranger,” said Housiya al-Hamadi, strolling with six members of her family past market stalls offering hand-painted porcelain, silk scarves and touristic knick-knacks.
Simultaneously western European countries have become less appealing. “After Sept 11, visa requirements became much stricter, visas for the UK and other European countries are now very hard to get for us,” said Oussama Salaha, a Jordanian who is now living in Saudi Arabia. “Turkey is a Muslim country, we don’t need to worry about halal food, the culture is close to our own. Veiled women don’t face any issues in Turkey. Saudi tourists don’t go to France any more since the French government banned the face veil.”