Turkey - the ideal holiday destination?

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Many tourists are now flocking to Turkey. It offers golden sands, prices that are lower than Greece or Cyprus, the traditional destination for many of these holidaymakers, but at what cost?

The level of human rights abuse and lack of justice in Turkey is well documented, probably less well known is the level of environmental pollution, a level that is not only destroying the environment it is also at a level that is having an adverse effect on health. The women in the party may wish to consider - do they wish to travel to a country that treats women as second class citizens.

Holiday Which?, January 1997, detailed problems one family had at one hotel. They purchased bottled drinking water outside of the hotel (the local municipal supply is unfit to drink). The hotel treated this as smuggled contraband and to the family's humiliation and distress they themselves and their room were searched for bottled water. On their return to England they were awarded compensation by the tour company for this disgraceful treatment, though as Holiday Which? notes, this hotel is still featured in the tour operator's brochure.

The same issue of Holiday Which? refers to the dangerous wiring in many Turkish hotels and the danger that this poses to Health and Safety. They do note that the Turkish authorities have noted their comments, though whether this means that Turkish hotels will be brought up to an acceptable standard is another matter.

May 1997, You and Yours, a BBC Radio 4 consumer affairs programme, highlighted the dangers of indulging in water sports and other high risk activities such as hang gliding whilst on holiday in Turkey.

A number of serious accidents had taken place, not only to the tourists but also to the local instructors. The instructors were poorly trained, had no qualifications and whose experience was only marginally better than the first time tourists.

Apart from warning of the dangers the programme also highlighted the fact that Holiday Insurance does not cover these high risk activities and that the untrained, unskilled operatives carry no insurance, either for themselves or their clients.

The tourist areas are not safe from terrorist attacks. Kurdish terrorists have issued warnings to tourists to stay away, as they will be deliberately targeting tourist areas. The UK Foreign Office issued a warning (31 July 1997) that they can not guarantee the tourist areas to be free from terrorist attack and should no longer be considered as safe.

The Sunday Times reported the tragic outcome for one young family and their friends of a holiday in Turkey. ['Girl killed by out-off-control wet bike', Directions, Travel Section, The Sunday Times, 3 August 1997]

In a letter received the previous week, Beverley Lavallin wrote: "My family and friends have just returned from a a holiday in Turkey that will for ever be a horrific memory, because of a fatal accident we witnessed, involving a wet bike."

Beverley Lavallin goes on to describe how on Sunday 6 July 1997, herself, friends and several young children were enjoying a day on the beach at Patara on the Lycian coast of Turkey when accompanied by screams of terror a wet bike careered out of control, hit a young German girl at high speed and killed her. The bike eventually came to rest close by the spot where they were on the beach. Attempts to resuscitate the young German girl failed. The mother of the young girl had to be dragged screaming hysterically from the sea.

Beverley Lavallin goes on to say that whilst this ruined their holiday, it was nothing compared with the suffering of the young girl's mother. Beverley Lavallin notes that the beach had appeared safe and idyllic. Beverley Lavallin ended with a plea to warn others of the dangers these wet bikes can pose.

In a summary of the Turkish press (Mon, Aug 18, 1997) Reuters reported a story in the paper MILLIYET that "A giant coal-fired power plant in southwest Turkey is emptying waste directly into the Aegean Sea."

Holiday Which?, September 1997, reported on the poor level of hygiene and low food safety standards to be found in many Turkish hotels. So bad was the situation in Club Armonia, Turgutreis, Turkey, where hundreds of guests fell ill, that the tour company Airtours was forced to fly out a chef and hygiene experts. Tests showed the problem to be an airborne virus.

Airtours claimed that guests were warned in advance of the problems which included severe vomiting and diarrhoea. Angry guests gave a different version and were furious that Airtours had sent them to the hotel when they were well aware of the problems. At a 'welcome meeting' an Airtours representative was reported as saying "a few people were ill due to too much alcohol and sun".

Such was the number of incidents during the summer [Summer '97] and the unacceptably low standards of the UK tour operators that Consumer Affairs Minister Nigel Griffiths was forced to write to the tour operators' trade body the Federation of Tour Operators to remind them of their obligations to their clients.

Airtours are being forced to compensate hundreds of holidaymakers for their experience at two Turkish hotels - Club Bodrum and Club Armonia situated near to the coastal town of Turgetris. The holidaymakers suffered severe food poisoning through contracting E. coli 0157, the same strain that killed 22 people in Scotland. Although the infection was contracted during the summer of 1997, several months later many of the victims were still suffering. What angered many of the holidaymakers was that Airtours sent them to Turkey knowing there to be a problem. [The Mail on Sunday, 2 November 1997]

Thinking of going to Turkey with a specialist, Turkish owned, tour company? Then think again. Suntours was one such company. On Sunday 5 October 1997 it went bust, leaving many thousands of holidaymakers stranded. What was particularly odd, as one industry commentator noted, was that it went bust after a very lucrative season.

British Asians thinking of going to Turkey should think again. British Asians are being regularly killed for their British passports. The corrupt Turkish authorities are turning a blind eye to this grisly trade. Within the last ten years 174 British Asians have 'disappeared' in Turkey, at least five are known to have been killed. The British MP Keith Vaz is compiling a detailed dossier. [BBC news report, Radio 4, BBC, 4 September 1998; The Express, 15 October 1998]

Turkish roads are extremely dangerous. Coach crashes are frequent occurrences. Turkish drivers show little concern for either the safety of their own passengers or other road users. An Airtours coach on the way to Izmir airport was involved in a head on collision with a taxi, the coach careered off the road and down an embankment. All the occupants of the taxi were killed, many of the British tourists in the coach suffered serious injury, one was killed. The abysmal level of medical care in Turkey obliged Airtours to send out their own medical team. Airtours also sent out trauma councillors to help the survivors. [BBC news reports, Radio 4, BBC, 20 October 1998; British press, 21 October 1998]

It is not only tourists who should think twice about going to Turkey, football fans should think twice too. Wednesday 5 April 2000, Leeds United football supporters were out on the streets of Istanbul where they were attacked by a large group of Turkish thugs. Several of the Leeds fans were seriously injured, two died from knife attacks. The only action by the police was to man-handle Leeds fans. Several fans were warned to leave the country for their own safety, those that remained behind in Istanbul for the match the following night were subjected to 'house arrest' in their hotels.

Turkey is heavily promoted by tour operators as an idyllic holiday destination, the cut-price alternative to Greece or Cyprus. As many tourists are now discovering to their cost, the hype does not match the reality, cut-price too often turns out to be cheap and nasty. If this has been your experience, do not hesitate to demand substantial compensation from your tour company to mitigate your losses and to let others know what to expect.

The reality behind the glossy tourist brochures is a dirty Third World country with an appalling human rights record. Tourists and other visitors flocking to Turkey should never forget that it is their hard currency that is financing the repression of the Kurds and the continuing occupation of northern Cyprus by Turkey.

Turkey ~ Cyprus
(c) Keith Parkins 1997-2000 -- April 2000 rev 13