Russians queuing up for Turkish holidays are losing patience with their government, who has banned air travel to Turkey.
On the cusp of the summer season, flights to Turkey are still banned by the Russian government. The ban expires in a week. However, there is fear among Russians that it will be extended.
Russians make up one of the biggest groups of visitors for Turkey, which means they are central to the country's tourism industry. Like every country that is reliant on tourism, Turkey's economy took a battering last year when borders closed.
Tourism officials and operators were hopeful that this year they would claw back some much-needed income. However, the Russian government's ban has thrown a spanner in the works.
Russian committed to Turkish holidays
Even though their holiday plans have changed with the travel ban, Russians say they are prepared to wait.
Russian tourism industry representatives say Turkey's popularity is unwavering.
"We have so many clients just waiting for a green light," said Kasia Petrova, a travel agent based in Moscow. "For a lot of my clients, Turkey is somewhere they want to return every season, and the travel ban has caused some annoyance. Most of them have not booked alternative holidays and say they will wait.
Moscow resident Anastasia Stefanovic said she has been waiting "with my finger on the button" to rebook her holiday.
“Unfortunately, it is not possible at the moment. Turkey is beautiful in terms of climate, entertainment and budget. I would love to see the restrictions lifted."
If the ban is extended, Stefanovic would travel closer to home, exploring the countryside outside Moscow, she said.
Half a million tourists
Moscow's decision to ban the bulk of flights is said to have put the brakes on 500,000 tourists' travel plans, who had hoped to make the trip over between April and June.
Last year, Turkey welcomed just over 2 million Russians. The year before that, it was 6 million. Last week, Turkish officials visited Moscow to hold meetings to see how travel could become more possible between the two countries.
Another would-be tourist, Tatiana Uspenskova, said the challenges were "restricting". She had planned to make her first ever visit this year, but had been thwarted by the ban, she said.
“I would like to visit if I can. I would like to visit Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque and the Grand Bazaar,” she said. “But at the moment, I have postponed my travel plans due to COVID-19.”
Another Russian holidaymaker added their voice to the clamour of those wanting to book Turkish holidays.
“If I could go abroad, I would want to go to Turkey. It is closed now, but if the situation improves, I could visit Turkey.
“Now, I will probably go to Sochi on the Black Sea. I am unlikely to fly anywhere.”
Vaccine roll out
Last month, Turkey began a rollout of covid-19 vaccinations for tourism employees and those working in the aviation industry. The programme is two-thirds complete, officials said.
Culture and Tourism Deputy Minister Nadir Alpaslan said that all workers would be vaccinated by the end of June.
Regarding the meetings in Moscow, Alpaslan said flights between the two countries was a high priority.
“The opening of flight traffic with Russia is extremely important for Turkey and for tourism. We wish to begin flight traffic with Russia as soon as possible. Efforts towards this are continuing in full swing," he said.
The government is hoping for 30 million foreign visitors this year, netting an income of $23 billion.
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