Despite a new wave of Covid infections that has prompted a 17-day lockdown, Turkey is hopeful that tourists will be welcome from June.
This week, soaring numbers saw President Recep Tayyip Erdogan impose a lockdown through mid-May. The idea was to ensure Turkey would be able to open its beaches, restaurants and cultural and leisure destinations for the summer, he said.
After the news of swelling infections, Russia halted flights and warned its citizens against travel to Turkey this summer. Culture and Tourism Minister Mehmet Ersoy said the loss of Russian tourists was a blow to an industry that had suffered so much.
However, Ersoy hoped that Turkey would regain some of the lost ground. He told Reuters that 30 million tourists could arrive this year: twice as many as last year, provided the lockdown is successful in lowering daily Covid cases to below 5000, from the 30,000 they've reached in recent days.
While tourism is just one of Turkey's main industries, it comprises 12% of the economy and was the hardest hit sector last year. The foreign cash that visitors bring into the country is needed to offset Turkey's foreign debt.
However, revenues dropped by 65% last year when the pandemic prompted everyone to shut up shop, and Turkey's current account deficit grew to $37 billion last year as tourist revenues dropped to $12bn, a third of 2019's takings.
Travel agents and hotels expressed their fears that this year will be little better than last, with some believing tourists will choose to go to other Mediterranean destinations.
General manager at Istanbul-based Andiamo Tour Cem Polatoglu said the season will hinge on last-minute bookings, and on countries updating travel warnings swiftly to give people time to make holiday decisions.
The loss of the Russians
Travel warnings are in place in Russia, Germany, Britain, Bulgaria and Iran.
It's the Russians that Turkey will miss the most: on a regular year, 6 million Russians visit Turkey. Last year, despite pandemic conditions, 2.1 million Russians visited Turkey. Ankara has said that Moscow's travel ban has cost 500,000 Russian tourists.
"If Russian tourists do not come, there will be serious bankruptcies and potential layoffs," one Turkish tourism operator said.
Worse, Russian deputy prime minister Tatiana Golikova announced last week that Russian tour operators should hold off organising Turkish tours even after the lockdown.
The manager of Moscow travel agency Travelland, Yana Starostina, said clients still want to book Turkish holidays. However, she believed this wouldn't be possible until August.
Next week, hopeful that a dialogue can help open relations between the two countries, Turkey's foreign and health ministers will head to Moscow to discuss travel.
Requirements for travellers from Britain, China, Ukraine and some others by mid-May. Though arrivals were down 54% year-on-year in the first quarter, Ersoy said a sharp drop in coronavirus infections since April 21 was a hopeful sign that "drastic" lockdown measures were working.
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