This last week I had the opportunity to do some traveling throughout Turkey in my first post-coronavirus excursion. I last got on a plane in early March when I was traveling back to Istanbul from Los Angeles, and to say things have changed would be an understatement. All in all, I had a great time and am optimistic for a quick pick-up in tourism and travel post-pandemic. Turkey, especially, will benefit in the post-pandemic period because of its ability to keep the pandemic relatively under control.
Los Angeles International Airpor (LAX) was nearly deserted as I departed in March so it wasn’t surprising to see Istanbul Airport also relatively quiet. What was surprising was the new normal in travel: temperature checks before you enter the terminal and ticket checks before security, ensuring only ticketed passengers are allowed in. The food court was almost entirely shut down, and stand-alone restaurants that were open served everything with paper utensils, plates and cups. The shuttered restaurants have said the number of flights operating is not yet sufficient to make operating again feasible, but that number will be hit by this weekend, it appears.
In the terminal, masks are required at all times. I was stopped by security guards when I was switching masks as the ear loop came off of one, and I quickly noticed how all passengers were under surveillance to ensure protocols were being followed. All bags must be checked in so passengers quickly sit and no one blocks the aisles. Seating by seat number is done quickly and efficiently. Social distancing is preserved during the boarding process until you actually sit down, of course.
Masks are mandatory on flights as well. Flight attendants hand out extra masks and hand wipes for use. No food was offered, and probably as a result, no one used the lavatory at the front of the aircraft during the 2-hour flight. Upon landing, museums and outdoor tourist destinations have social distancing lines. Enclosed shops and restaurants separate cashiers and shoppers and block off seats when someone is eating so no one is sitting too close to one another.
I traveled from Şanliurfa to Van via Mardin, Nusaybin, Cizre, Midyat, Hasankeyf, Bitlis and Bahçesaray. The use of masks on the street was prevalent everywhere. Entry to markets and gas stations without masks must incur a steep fine for operators as they were turning away customers who didn’t have their masks on properly.
The lack of flights made only local tourism possible in most places, which meant few crowds, but even then you could see people were excited to be out and about. This is good news for small business owners and retailers that have been starved of revenue during the pandemic, and not a moment too soon.
Turkey has put in place protocols to make tourism as safe as can be expected as the summer season kicks off. The only issue now is to ensure those countries that haven’t been as lucky as Turkey during the pandemic aren’t sending Turkey infected tourists. The use of rapid-response antibody tests which will be rolled out throughout Turkey next week will be important in addition to COVID-19 tests already being done on international tourists. The government needs to make sure tests are being done efficiently so that the summer months can both be enjoyable for all while keeping everyone safe. Safe travels everyone!
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