As Europe, and the world at large, begins to emerge from pandemic-level, restrictive safety measures, tourist destinations around the Mediterranean brace for an influx of travellers eager to find relaxation and renewal. Many travellers, long to return to their beloved, pre-pandemic routine stops. With that in mind, tourist agencies from each Mediterranean country look to the patterns of the past in order to set expectations for the summer of 2022. This is a very logical mindset, but for many travellers’ life in 2022 looks radically different to life all the way back in 2019. Economic factors have shifted the range of options for many families. Global inflation has made some destinations more appealing and reasonable compared to past options. Geopolitical conflicts also have their role in shaping each person’s list of desired destinations, but also travellers’ willingness to leave their domestic lands at all.
Entering Quarter Two of 2022, Turkey finds itself uniquely positioned and affected by each one of these phenomena both positively and negatively. By examining Turkey’s tourism in these ways, we’ll be able to highlight some beautiful opportunities to maximise your Mediterranean vacation, while saving money, avoiding crowds, and fully experiencing some of the richest culture this world has to offer.
For much of the second half of the 20th Century, Turkey had not found much of a foothold among international travellers. However, over the 25 years leading up to the pandemic, Turkey increased their number of arrivals from under 8 million per year, to over 51 million per year. That is a 44 million person per year increase, equating to +570% boom that led all of their Mediterranean counterparts over the same span, per the World Tourism Organisation. With Morocco, 376%, and Croatia, 273%, coming in a distant 2 and 3.
In 2019, visitors to Turkey spent 42.3 billion USD in tourism activities; a 15% increase from 2018. This momentum in Turkish tourism can be attributed to many factors, but it’s fair to say that the world was beginning to discover Turkey’s hidden treasures.
Two of those treasures made Mastercard’s Top 20 Global Destination Cities’ Index in 2019, the historical capital, Istanbul, and the crown jewel of the Turquoise Coast, Antalya. They represented numbers 8 and 10 in total international visitors respectively, while only ranking 15 and 20 in total money spent by those visitors. This really highlights Turkey’s title as the world’s true king of mixing world class luxury, beauty, history, and culture with affordability and accessibility.
Winding Down from a Pandemic
Of course, we know that this 25-year momentum was halted in 2020, along with most other endeavours across the planet due to the spread of COVID-19. But by the second half of 2021 we began to catch glimpses how life in this sector, that makes up 12% of Turkey’s GDP, would return upon restoration of pre-pandemic traveling procedures.
At the end of 2021, Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism reported a total of 30 million people visited over the entirety of the year. A far cry from 2019’s 51+ million, but a precipitous jump from 2020’s 16 million total. In January 2022, Mehmet Nuri Ersoy, Minister of Tourism and Culture, announced that passenger levels at Turkish airports rose 77% over the course of one month, December 2021. He also added, the numbers passing through Antalya have reached 558,000 passengers, close to pre-pandemic levels month/month. Combine that with the economy’s overall growth of 11% in 2021, the largest in decades, and there’s reason to believe Turkey’s tourism can return to, and even exceed 2019’s high watermark.
Inflation and Economic Factors
Unfortunately, for forecasters, past results don’t always predict future performance. In the case of 2022 we must at least consider two large, impactful influences on traveller decisions: economics and geopolitics. Global inflation has reshaped the Mediterranean tourism landscape both in favour, and not in favour, of Turkey. But, from the perspective of a travelling family with disposable income in the form of dollars, euros, or pounds, inflation has broken in your favour.
As of March 1, 2022 the Turkish Lira equates to $14.25 USD, €15.50 Euros, £18.90 British Pounds. According to inflation data the Lira is inflated by 54%, compared to the Dollar’s 7.5%, the Euro’s 5.6%, and the Pound’s 5.5%. In real world terms, according to the Economist’s Big Mac Index, a Big Mac costs 24.99 lira, or $1.86, in Turkey and $5.81 in the United States. That implied exchange rate is 4.30.
The difference between this and the actual exchange rate, 13.42 at the time, suggests a Big Mac costs 67.9% less in Turkish Liras than in Dollars. When adjusted for GDP, this implies that the Turkish Lira is 48% undervalued against the Dollar. That’s second worst in the world, only slightly more valued than the Russian Rouble.
The impacts to be gleaned from the current state of Turkey’s economy are two-fold. It is extremely advantageous to be in Turkey with the spending power of the Dollar, Euro, or Pound. In some instances, prices are adjusted to cut into that raw discrepancy, especially in high tourist trafficked areas such as Istanbul and Antalya. However, that disparity is still much larger than any comparable Mediterranean country. The second impact is that Turkey will need a large influx of tourism capital to counteract the Lira’s current trajectory. So, from many economic perspectives, there has never been a better time to vacation in Turkey.
In consideration of geopolitical factors, such as the current war in Ukraine, or other conflicts and incidents along the edges of Turkey’s expansive borders, it’s important to separate what is measurable and what is not. What is not measurable, or more difficult to measure, is sentiment. Turkey is, and always has been, the fulcrum between the East and the West. The cultural melting pot of Europe and Asia. And in being so, it is the home to a spectrum of perspectives and interpretations which are exported to different corners of the earth. While this does effect tourism to an extent, positively and negatively, it’s very hard to predict how these sentiments coalesce and manifest themselves in data.
What we can measure is where visitors to Turkey are coming from. We can measure where the increases and decreases are happening over time and try to project where Turkey will rise and fall in popularity when it comes down to planning vacations.
In 2019, the countries who visited Turkey most (% of total visits by country) were:
- Russia (15.6%)
- Germany (11.2%)
- Bulgaria (6%)
- United Kingdom (5.7%)
- Iran (4.7%)
In 2021, the top five countries were:
- Russia (19%)
- Germany (12.5%)
- Ukraine (8.3%)
- Bulgaria (5.68%)
- Iran (4.7%)
It’s important to recognise, even in 2021, each country had differing travel restrictions and approaches. However, the biggest increases in percentages tourists from 2019-2021 are:
- Ukraine (+4.9%)
- Russia (+3.43%)
- Germany (+1.32%)
- France (+0.57%)
- Uzbekistan (+0.54%)
- Kazakhstan (+0.47%)
- Poland (+0.42%)
The biggest regressions were:
- United Kingdom (-4.1%)
- Georgia (-3.25%)
- Greece (-1.22%)
- Saudi Arabia (-1.21%)
- China (-0.81%)
With Russia and the Ukraine providing such a large percentage of patronage to Turkish tourism, it’s not a stretch to say that Turkey’s pristine, sun kissed beaches will be left a bit empty in 2022 assuming the toll of economic and social recovery in both countries will be heavy.
However, there is opportunity for Turkey’s bordering neighbours to continue their increase in visitation. As well as their other loyal guests like Germany, Bulgaria, and Iran. There is also plenty of incentive for citizens from the West and the East to return to Turkey’s shores in even greater numbers compared to years past. This is especially true for large countries who have shown increases and were above 500,000 visitors in 2019 such as the Romania (+.32%), United States (+.22%), and Belgium (+.13%).
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