It’s a tale of two Türkiyes right now: In the country’s southeast, which was hit by multiple massive earthquakes on February 6, at least 50,000 are dead, hundreds of thousands of people are homeless, and 230,000 buildings have been damaged or destroyed. Financial aid has fallen short, creating a lingering humanitarian crisis, the Associated Press reports.
“Given the number of people that have been relocated, given the number of people that have been injured and given the level of the devastation, we do have extensive humanitarian needs now,” Alvaro Rodriguez, the U.N. resident coordinator in Türkiye, told the Associated Press.
Yet hundreds of miles away in Türkiye’s most touristed cities and regions—Istanbul, Bodrum, Antalya, and Cappadocia—they want people to know that it’s business as usual.
Travelers may wonder if they should proceed with their plans to visit Türkiye in the coming days, weeks, and months. As aid groups continue to seek additional support for the people and places in the southeast, those in Türkiye’s travel sector suggest another way to help is to simply go—to spur the economy by visiting those places unaffected.
Türkiye’s “economy really relies on travel, and after two and a half years of the pandemic, [the fallout from the earthquake is] a very big hit for the population and the local people,” says Zina Bencheikh, managing director of Europe, Middle East, and Africa for global tour operator Intrepid Travel, which has 25 staff members in Türkiye and operates 30 tours there; no tours have been canceled.
Intrepid launched a Türkiye and Syria Earthquake Appeal to raise support for relief and aid efforts and has committed to donating all profits from bookings made on its Türkiye trips through the end of April.
“It’s been very heartbreaking for us to see the loss, but we are doing what we can to encourage people to go back,” says Bencheikh.
Here’s what to know about the current situation.
What areas of Türkiye were affected by the earthquake?
The epicenter of the February 6 magnitude 7.8 earthquake was near Gaziantep, in southeast Türkiye, not far from the Syrian border. Dozens of aftershocks followed, the largest of which was a magnitude 7.5 earthquake that took place nine hours after the initial quake and about 60 miles north. At least 10 Turkish provinces were affected: Adana, Adiyaman, Diyarbakir, Gaziantep, Hatay, Kahramanmaras, Kilis, Malatya, Osmaniye, and Sanliurfa.
However, Türkiye’s major tourism centers are far from the earthquake’s affected areas. The distance between Istanbul and the hard-hit regions is anywhere from 550 to 700 miles; Antalya is about 370 miles from Gaziantep.
“Most people don’t realize it, but Türkiye is a massive country: the size of California, Oregon, and Washington State combined,” says Geoffrey Weill, founder and president of Geoffrey Weill Associates, Inc., the agency that represents Türkiye’s tourism marketing organization, GoTürkiye.
Are flights to Türkiye operating as normal?
Flights to and from Türkiye are operating as normal, according to the national carrier Turkish Airlines. In fact, the national carrier didn’t experience a diminished load factor for February 2023 compared to February 2022, and with high season kicking off in June, the airline tells AFAR that it doesn’t anticipate any major cancellations or a drop in passenger numbers for the summer.
“As tourism is one of Türkiye’s major economic drivers, our goal is to educate travelers and consumers so they understand that Istanbul and other tourist destinations are safe to visit and many hours away from the earthquake’s epicenter. The country needs our support and love now more than ever,” the airline said in a statement sent to AFAR.
Turkish Airlines has 12 U.S. gateways: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. Two more, Denver and Detroit, will be added by the end of 2023, bringing the total to 14.
In January, Turkish Airlines opened a new lounge in Terminal 1 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, its third U.S.-based airport lounge, in addition to Miami International Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport.
What about hotels and tours?
Hotels in the vast majority of Türkiye are open and welcoming guests. In fact, AFAR this month published a lineup of the best new hotels that have recently opened in Istanbul, a dreamy collection of properties such as the first-ever Peninsula hotel in Türkiye, along with the best new places to eat and drink and things to do in the bustling city.
Tour operators are going forth with their scheduled Türkiye itineraries as well, including Intrepid, G Adventures, Trafalgar, Abercrombie & Kent, Exodus Travels, and countless others.
“We’re running trips at the moment, so it’s really open for business,” says Intrepid’s Bencheikh, adding optimistically, “We’re really hopeful that the earthquake is not going to affect bookings to Türkiye.” Bencheikh notes that the operator hasn’t experienced any cancellations.
How to help Türkiye and Syria in the aftermath of the earthquakes
For those wondering how to help, we’ve rounded up some of the organizations assisting the victims of the Türkiye–Syria earthquake.
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)
To donate: doctorswithoutborders.org
Also known by its French name Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Doctors Without Borders has teams working in northwestern Syria, where hospitals are overwhelmed by the tens of thousands of people who were injured by the earthquakes. The organization donates emergency medical kits and provides healthcare facilities with support by way of additional medical staff. It also donates blankets and essential life kits to displaced people in the region.
To donate: oxfamamerica.org
A global network of local organizations that works to fight inequality and end poverty and injustice, the Oxfam affiliate in Türkiye has partnered with about 80 women’s cooperatives in 10 Turkish provinces that have been most affected by the earthquakes.
To donate: projecthope.org
An international nonprofit devoted to empowering healthcare workers and systems throughout the world, Project Hope has deployed emergency response teams to the affected areas in Türkiye and Syria to assist with the distribution of medicine, emergency kits, and medical supplies, as well as with search and rescue efforts.
The Turkish and Syrian Arab Red Crescents
To donate: redcross.org
The global Red Cross and Red Crescent networks are providing warm meals, water, tents, and blankets to the injured and evacuated in Türkiye and Syria and are collecting and shipping blood and plasma donations to the impacted areas. They are also supporting search and rescue operations, providing first aid, performing emergency medical evacuations, and transporting injured people to hospitals in addition to providing psychosocial support to the victims.
Turkish embassy and consulates
To donate: Contact the embassy or a local consulate
The Turkish embassy and consulates throughout the United States are accepting donations of blankets, tents, sleeping bags, pocket warmers, winter clothing, and over-the-counter medications for flu, cold, and pain relief by mail or through in-person drop off.