Many plan to keep traveling to show terrorists they can’t disrupt the daily life and economy of one of the few majority-Muslim countries that has also achieved a stable, secular democracy.
Though back in Turkey, many are just resigned to the fact that terrorism has become a part of life.
“I already booked my ticket to visit Turkey in a few weeks and I am looking forward to it no matter what happens,” said Dogancan Temel, a Ph.D. candidate in Electrical Computer Engineering at Georgia Tech. “I am not too concerned about my personal security, and I am more willing to go to share the pain and to be stronger together. Of course, people are concerned about the recent events, but being concerned is not going to fix things.”
At Piedmont Park Wednesday evening, Mr. Temel saw candlelight and red balloons, the color of the Turkish flag, and assumed he’d arrived at a vigil to show solidarity for the victims. But he quickly discovered that he’d stumbled upon a separate somber event. The experience illustrated how many people are suffering in the world, how gratuitous the recent violence is and how it can desensitize society.
“Now, I can feel that people started focusing on these attacks in terms of numbers. However, the sad truth is, even a single person corresponds to infinity. It is a life that is lost and cannot be recovered,” Mr. Temel wrote in an email.
Mazlum Kosma, who works at Georgia Tech in housing and previously led the Turkish-American Cultural Association of Georgia, helped organize the vigil “to show our support and solidarity with the innocent people who lost their loved ones in heinous terrorist attack.”
He said his faith in Istanbul’s security isn’t completely shaken just yet.
“No, I would not be worried to go home because of this,” he said.
Mr. Kosma’s elderly mother traveled on Turkish Airlines from Atlanta to Istanbul a month ago. For her, the only choice is between fear or flying.
“She might be a little hesitant now, but Istanbul or Ankara [also hit by recent suicide bombings] are the only places she can fly to. So there is no other option, and there is no room to be scared and stay home,” he said, adding that he’s not writing off Istanbul as a transit hub. “Not for me, at least not now, not yet.”
Despite their personal optimism, Turkish tourism was suffering even before the airport attacks, with study-abroad programs, large groups and leisure travelers starting to shy away from the country. Serdar Kilic, the country’s ambassador, conceded in Atlanta a few months back that this year was “gone” for tourism purposes, in part thanks to a diplomatic row with Russia that all but cut off leisure travel from that important market. [Read: Security Issues at Home a Headwind for Turkish Airlines Flight]
In the aftermath of the airport attack, it’s unclear how business travel will be affected, or how Istanbul, which has been the the site of three bombings in recent months, will see its reputation as a business hub harmed.
Atlanta companies like Coca-Cola Co., CNN and United Parcel Service Inc. all have regional operations there. Coke, particularly, covers 90-plus countries from Istanbul, which utilizes Turkish Airlines’ connectivity extensively in Africa and elsewhere.
At the airline’s launch gala in Atlanta May 16, Coke CEO Mukhtar Kent, a Turkey native, said the flight would make travel much more convenient for his employees. When asked this week how Coke would change its travel planning, a spokesman simply said there would be “no change in our operations.”
Turkish Airlines, meanwhile, told Global Atlanta it was too early to determine what the impact of the attacks would be on the Atlanta flight’s long-term demand. It would not say whether it was experiencing a rash of cancellations, only that it was working to help travelers whose plans had changed.
While some have blamed President Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for what they perceive as ambivalence to extremism in the past, authorities seem determined not to let the attacks sow fear. The Turkish Embassy in Washington was mum when Global Atlanta reached out with questions, but Turkey’s tourist office in New York put out a news release noting that the airport was secure and back open after the “hateful attacks.”
In fact, the reopening took just a few hours after three suicide bombs destroyed parts of the terminal, killed 44 people and injured in excess of 230 more, a gruesome incident that once again exposed the vulnerability of transit targets (and public spaces in general) to terror attacks. That’s despite the fact that Istanbul has stricter security than most global airports, including a security check before the terminal that some reports suggested prevented the June 28 assailants from doing even more damage.
Tim Crockett, Atlanta-based vice president of security for travel and medical HX Global, said while you’re still more likely to be involved in a car accident than a terrorist attack, planning for that possibility is becoming routine for companies given the nature of recent targets.
“The shocking incident in Istanbul is an unwelcome reminder of the recent horrific events in Brussels, Paris and just last year in Tunisia that are quickly becoming the new normal as it pertains to threats to travelers,” Mr. Crockett told Global Atlanta.
While government-issued advisories from places like the U.S. and and United Kingdom and guidance from travel companies are helpful, they’re no substitute for empowering the employee take charge of their own safety while on the road, Mr. Crockett said.
“It is now something that is increasingly being fully incorporated into overseas operations,” he said.
What’s less clear is how leisure travelers will respond. On the U.S. side, one of the biggest winners of this sort of security volatility will be cruise lines, he said.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed mentioned the Istanbul incident in a security briefing Wednesday, a spokeswoman said, but he had no further comment about the attacks.