Following a grim 2020 marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, Turkey’s tourism sector anticipates better results this year amid a vaccination rollout, but a return to pre-pandemic times remains elusive for now, industry insiders say. President Erdogan’s decision to partially re-open the economy in March, too, carries risks and rewards.
Choked off by the coronavirus, the number of foreigners visiting Turkey stood at 12.7 million in 2020, dropping by 71.7 percent from the previous year mainly because of global travel restrictions and lockdowns, the Culture and Tourism Ministry announced recently. In January 2021, the decline continued, reaching 75% YoY in number terms. With many Covid-19 related restrictions such as the complete closure of restaurants, bars, and cafes, which indirectly reduce the attractiveness of the country, tourist arrivals are anticipated to remain at a multi-year nadir through May. The question is how much they will rebound in the critical summer months.
The Turkish Statistical Institute revealed that Turkey’s tourism revenues slipped by 65.1 percent year on year to 12.6 billion U.S. dollars last year.
In 2019, Turkey’s tourism revenues had hit a record high of 34.5 billion dollars with more than 45 million foreign visitors. The southern Mediterranean province of Antalya alone, with its beaches and archaeological sites, hosted nearly 15 million tourists.
After the COVID-19 crisis erupted, the ministry ushered in some measures to withstand the impact of the pandemic.
Ongoing vaccination drives are encouraging professionals.
“Turkey’s vaccination program is giving us hope, and our morale is higher than last year. We believe that the vaccine will bring up tourism from the bottom rapidly,” Volkan Yorulmaz, a board member of the Professional Hotel Managers Association of Turkey, told Xinhua.
“We now have the experience to deal with this pandemic, and we learned from it and perfected our game,” Yorulmaz said.
Turkey has launched in mid-January a mass inoculation rollout with China’s vaccine. Over 7 million people, mostly health professionals and the elderly, have been vaccinated so far, according to official data.
“We have asked authorities to include tourism sector workers into the inoculation drive before the season starts, in mid-April, to alleviate any concerns that foreign visitors may have regarding Turkey,” Yorulmaz said.
Tourism is a strategic asset for Turkey as it brings foreign currency that helps decrease the growing current account deficit, one of the economy’s weakest points.
Tourism revenues account for up to 12 percent of the Turkish economy.
Serkan Kaya, a travel agency manager in Cappadocia, a hotspot among foreign visitors located in central Anatolia, said reservations are gradually increasing for his region.
“We have lots of people calling us every day from European and Asian countries asking us the situation in Cappadocia, and we tell them that it is safe here,” he told Xinhua.
Foreseeing more tourist arrivals this year with the expected easing of travel restrictions, Kaya believes 2021 will be a “transition year.”
“I think that global and domestic tourism will be healed only in 2022 when a considerable number of people and thus potential tourists will be inoculated,” he noted.
Cappadocia, famous for its rock formations called fairy chimneys, history and hot-air balloon trips, is also a location preferred by Chinese tourists.
Because of travel restrictions, they deserted the spot in 2020.
Culture and Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy said Turkey is targetting a 100 percent growth for 2021 at minimum, which means over 25 million tourists.
According to Yorulmaz, Turkey may only see the same record revenues and visitor numbers attained in 2019 after at least two years, and the “recuperation process” will take time.
The decision by Boris Johnson to lift travel restrictions in UK by mid-May gave Turkey’s cash-stripped operators new hope because UK visitors are the third largest among many nations enjoying Turkey’s broad offering of sun-and-fun locations.
Yet, a lot of uncertainty about the season hangs over the industry. President Erdogan ordered a province-by-province and case-by-case re-opening of the economy in March. He was forced into this decision by massive pressure from the small business community, a large segment of which in services realm faces insolvency if lock-downs continue. However, Health Minister Mr Fahrettin Koca reported more than 8.5K cases on Monday, adding that several large provinces were witnessing spikes. If reopening is handled delicately, it could encourage early reservations. But, a flare-up of the epidemic because of benign negligence to rising caseloads could backfire on Erdogan, devasting the economy.
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