Turkish markets, tourism hope to withstand bombings shock

ANKARA – Fears that the Istanbul bombings could deal a heavy blow to Turkey’s fragile economy appeared unfounded yesterday as financial markets held steady and officials in the vital tourism industry expressed confidence tourists would keep coming. The attacks in Istanbul, Turkey’s biggest city and commercial center, struck at a time when the country’s economy had just begun to emerge from its worst recession in decades. The Istanbul stock exchange suffered only minimal losses as investors appeared to keep faith in positive economic trends. The national index of the country’s top 100 companies lost 393 points, or 2.4 percent, to close the day at 15,687 points. The embattled Turkish lira was stable at 1,466,000 against the dollar. «The index lost 2.4 percent but this was not as drastic a reaction that we had expected… I can say the markets did not lose their nerve,» said Niyazi Atasoy, a dealer from Ata Investment. «Positive expectations regarding the economy, particularly the positive trend in inflation and growth, are still a determining factor,» he told AFP. Suspected suicide bombers detonated massive car bombs at two synagogues during Sabbath prayers on Saturday, killing at least 24 people. «The attacks are not perceived as a direct move against Turkey, but just as one of the violent acts that Al Qaeda has carried out at different spots in the world,» said Haluk Burumcekci, research director of the privately owned Disbank. «Investors believe that the positive economic trend will be maintained and there will be no problem with the implementation of the IMF program,» he said in reference to a 16-billion-dollar standby deal between Ankara and the international lender. The IMF has said Turkey is well on track to achieve its targets of 20 percent inflation and 5 percent growth this year. Inflation stood at 20.8 percent in October and growth was 3.7 percent in the second quarter of the year. Representatives of Turkey’s tourism industry, a vital source of foreign cash, did not report any panic either, both at home and abroad. «Naturally, some people will be anxious, but booking cancellations will be at a minimum because people who travel are already aware that terror is everywhere and can strike them even on their doorstep,» said Huseyin Baraner, a manager of the Germany-based Oger Tours, a top operator bringing in tourists from Europe. In Paris, the chairman of Pacha Tours, Mumtaz Teker, said there had been few cancellations, adding that there was no comparison with the fallout of the 1999 earthquakes when reservations dropped by 80 percent. The British federation of tour operators also said it did not anticipate a drop in bookings. «It’s business as usual,» said First Choice, a top tour operator. Istanbul is one of the top destinations for tourists visiting the country either for sightseeing or for beach holidays on its Aegean and Mediterranean coastlines. A record 13 million tourists visited Turkey last year, bringing in revenues of 8.5 billion dollars. Tourism revenues accounted for a quarter of Turkish exports and 5 percent of the country’s gross national product in 2002.