Turkish tourism is going to look a little different for a while

Last year, you had to get up pretty early to reserve a sun bed on Turkey's most popular stretches of sandy beach. 

This year it's different. Even after sleeping well into the morning, the sun beds along Konyaalti and Oludeniz beaches are mostly empty.

Turkey welcomed a record 50 million tourists last year, putting valuable money into the country's economy. However, along with everywhere else on the planet, the coronavirus pandemic put the brakes on Turkey's tourism industry. 

Now, as restrictions lift in Turkey and around the world, the country that relies heavily on tourism is trying to lure tourists for the summer season.

Konyaalti Beach, Antalya, Turkey

Tourism with a difference

A summer holiday looks a little different in Turkey this year, starting with the passage through the airport, where thermal cameras take passengers' temperatures, and testing stations with the capacity to test 20,000 people daily have opened.

At luxury hotels, guests are asked to respect social distancing. Antibacterial hand gel is placed at strategic locations, and at restaurants, all staff must wear protective face masks and other protective gear.

The strict measures are intended to protect employees of hotels and other tourist hubs, as well as tourists, said Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy in an interview with AFP.

"Turkey is the best-prepared country" to welcome tourists, Ersoy said.

It's true that Turkey has come through the worst of the pandemic relatively unharmed, its youthful population thought to be behind the low rate of deaths in the country. Official figures show Turkey has recorded 5000 coronavirus fatalities out of almost 190,000 cases. 

But that doesn't mean that precautions aren't being followed.

Last week, Ersoy unveiled a "safe tourism" certificate, which hotels and restaurants can earn based on meeting 132 criteria. About 500 establishments have received the label so far.

The criteria includes a requirement for hotels to set up a separate section to isolate covid-positive tourists. 

However, the costs of reconfiguring establishments would not be passed on to consumers, said Sururi Corabatir, president of the Federation of Turkish Hoteliers.

The government has also introduced health insurance that travellers can sign up for on arrival to the country. At just 23 euros, the insurance covers hospital expenses for covid admissions.

High stakes and quiet streets

.Currently, the southern city of Antalya is quiet, with some calling the once heavily touristed city "Las Vegas without a casino". In 2019 35 million people travelled to the Mediterranean city, including 15 million from abroad. These numbers won't be seen this year. 

Some Turks are enjoying a quiet holiday, without the need to navigate tourist crowds. But with many relying on tourism income - from hoteliers to the farmers who supply tourist regions with produce - there is a strong motivation to get Turkey back up and running or tourists.

Last week, foreign tourists began to trickle back in to the country. That trickle will turn to a fast stream as more countries lift restrictions. Most tourists are expected to return to Antalya, Bodrum, Dalaman, Izmir and Istanbul.

However, the number of visitors depends on tourists' home countries: for example, Germany has designated Turkey a "coronavirus risk area", deterring its citizens from visiting a country that has always been popular with Germans.

"Bookings for 2021 are piling up: Tourists have not forgotten Turkey, on the contrary," Ersoy said.


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