When it came time to plan a summer vacation for a group of 18 friends and family, including her four daughters, traveler Eva Strasburger didn’t really think twice: The Austin resident was headed to Turkey despite the terror attacks of the past two years, the political upheaval, and the currency crisis. But when the U.S. Department of State issued a fresh warning for the country in late June, advising Americans to “reconsider travel to Turkey due to terrorism and arbitrary detentions,” Strasburger says, “I knew I needed to do my due diligence.”

“Istanbul is one of my husband’s favorite cities—we’ve gone there several times,” says Strasburger, who’s traveled “a lot” and considers herself quite intrepid. But with an updated travel warning on the country, she wanted a second opinion. She sought counsel in Karen Fedorko Sefer, a Turkey expert and the president of Sea Song Tours, which plans trips across the country.

“It’s definitely gotten safer,” says Fedorko Sefer. “People weren’t willing to go—in 2017 especially—but now they’re feeling like, I’m gonna go.” Travelers are quite simply tired of waiting for the proverbial green light, Fedorko Sefer says.

For Strasburger, this summer’s trip turned out to be an absolute success. “We rented a gulet,” a traditional sailing yacht, “which was eight cabins for 18 people, and took my four daughters and their friends, and they thought it was one of the best trips they’d ever been on,” she says. “It was absolutely glorious. The weather, the water, the service, the boat itself was fabulous.” Their itinerary hit Istanbul, then a slow route around the Mediterranean with some Greek Islands thrown in; some of the traveling party also visited Cappadocia and Ephesus.

In the end, Strasburger says, “it wasn’t a difficult decision—the biggest decision is more the moral side of it, whether you agree with what [Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan is doing. And a lot of people are having big issues with that,” she adds, citing his imprisonment of political opponents as just one of the major reasons a person might decline to go.

Yet for Strasburger, and for others who Condé Nast Traveler spoke with over the past month, the upsides outweigh the risks. Americans have been avoiding Turkey for years because of security concerns, but suddenly they’re returning in big numbers, according to industry sources. Bookings for 2018 are up a staggering 214 percent over last year, tour operator Intrepid Travel says. Total foreign arrivals to Turkey are forecast to rise 5.7 percent from 2017 to more than 38 million this year, the World Travel & Tourism Council says. And “travelers’ interest in Turkey bounced back in mid- to late August with a notable upswing as more details about Turkey’s fiscal situation emerged,” a spokesman for Travelzoo said by email. “Of note, Travelzoo saw an immediate, huge spike in interest in travel to Turkey on Tuesday, July 24, when the lira plummeted due to Turkey’s central bank leaving the interest rate unchanged.”

Even cruise lines, which have avoided Turkey in recent years, are also bouncing back, according to Frank del Rio, the president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings. “Sailings that have Turkey are selling more and at higher prices than those … without Turkey,” del Rio said earlier this month, predicting a surge in bookings for 2020 and 2021.

Still, the country isn’t without its risks, according to the U.S. State Department. “Terrorist organizations explicitly target Western tourists and expatriates for kidnapping and assassination,” says the agency’s advisory on the country. “Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets/shopping malls, local government facilities, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, parks, major sporting and cultural events, educational institutions, airports, and other public areas.” (While Turkey rates a “Level 3” advisory from the State Department out of 4, the agency uses similar language in its assessment of France and Germany, two countries that have less-severe “Level 2” advisories. These warnings are frequently, routinely updated—and aren’t necessarily cause for alarm. Condé Nast Traveler has previously explored what the various State Department advisories actually mean.)

Is It Safe to Visit Istanbul Right Now?

Yet that didn’t stop traveler Pete Matthews from planning a trip earlier this year.

“Our experience in Turkey could not have been better,” says Matthews, who visited with his husband, Mike Matthews. “We felt safe during our entire trip. The people we engaged with were friendly, welcoming, and warm. We would go back in a heartbeat. For our trip this summer, we did arrive just days after the most recent elections and while there were political ads present just about everywhere we turned, we heard perspectives from people that were across the political spectrum.”

It was the pair’s second trip to the country this year, a “nearly” two-week itinerary to Istanbul, Cappadocia, and a foray into Greece. They were inspired after “a brief unplanned one-night layover this January due to a missed connection where we had only a few hours to explore Istanbul,” Pete says, a quick-hit visit that only made the couple want to return.

“We were hooked,” he says. While they initially had some concerns about returning—”the granting of visas to Americans was only restored several days before we we arrived in January,” Pete says—those were put to rest after talking with Fedorko Sefer. “Her reputation and recommendations for what to do and where to go made us confident that we were in capable hands,” Pete says.

We felt safe during our entire trip. The people we engaged with were friendly, welcoming, and warm. We would go back in a heartbeat.

It was the same for Debra Valentine, who also visited Turkey with the help of Fedorko Sefer, spending several nights in Istanbul before seeing Cappadocia, Izmir, Ephesus, and Pergamon. “The warning was not a source of concern for us,” says Valentine, who traveled with her partner, Jill Gardiner. “It may have contributed to friends’ and families’ concerns. Our work gives us access to security briefings from major organizations and they indicated at most the possibility of political demonstrations in Ankara and in the far southeastern Kurdish area and we were not going to be near those places. We were there during the elections and encountered no concerns nor demonstrations,” she says.

In fact, Valentine says, the uncertainty that has kept some away has made Turkey even more appealing in one particular way. “Notwithstanding the troubles between [President] Trump and Erdogan and the financial straits that Turkey is failing to navigate well,” she wrote by email, “it makes for a much more affordable luxury trip than comparable alternatives.”

That’s something that other Turkey experts are seeing as well. “There are bargains to be had,” says Earl Starkey, a Turkey travel expert with Protravel International. (The Turkish lira has shed nearly half its value against the U.S. dollar so far this year, and while that’s bad news for Turks, Starkey says, it’s a plus for American shoppers.)

All of which explains why Eva Strasburger ended up taking that dream trip to Turkey with her daughter and more than a dozen family friends. “You can’t beat it as a destination,” she says. “Would I recommend it? Absolutely. You just never know—we’ve been there a couple times when there have been protests in the square—and we just avoided that. I can see why someone might be nervous going there but its like so many places that, once you go, you say, What was that fuss about?

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