Turkey hopes lockdown rescues tourism season

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Turkey is pinning its hopes on the health safety program and the pandemic-related lockdown for the new tourism season after a rapid coronavirus rise wiped out many early foreign bookings and prompted Russia, its top source of visitors, to halt flights.

Turkish Culture and Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy on May 4 participated in an online G20 Ministerial Meeting organized under the rotating presidency of Italy.

“I shared my remarks for the recovery of tourism and the latest developments on the Safe Tourism Certificate in Turkey,” he said in a tweet.

Around 30 million foreigners could arrive this year, twice as many as last, if the lockdown succeeds in lowering daily COVID-19 cases to below 5,000 from near 30,000 in recent days, the tourism minister told Reuters on May 3.

“As of June 1, we will open the tourist season, and if we can reduce the number of daily cases to below 5,000, we can maintain our target of 30 million tourists this year,” he said.

After strict lockdowns and travel restrictions in the first months of the pandemic last year, Turkey launched a Safe Tourism Certification Program in June 2020. As part of the program, thousands of hotels, restaurants, museums, travel agencies and other hospitality sector firms were certified to be inspected regularly.

The program aims to provide a zero-risk atmosphere for tourists with strict health and hygiene measures.

Turkey’s tourism income stood at $2.45 billion in the first quarter, down 40.2 percent compared to the same period last year, according to the Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK). The number of visitors dropped 53.9 percent to 2.6 million during the same period.

Turkey hosted a record number of foreign visitors – 45 million tourists and 7 million Turks residing abroad – in 2019 when the country earned nearly $35 billion in tourism revenues.

The foreign cash that tourists spend is critical to offset Turkey’s current account deficit, which was around $37 billion in 2020. The revenues plunged 65 percent last year when the number of visitors from abroad declined to around 16 million.

Turkey’s total tourism revenue is expected to reach $23 billion this year, up from $12.5 billion in 2020. In the new tourism season, which will start next month, Turkey expects strong demand from Russia, Germany, Ukraine, Poland, Britain and the Netherlands.

Some Turkish and Russian agents see a difficult few months until August when they say the Mediterranean and Aegean hot spots and historic sites in Istanbul and elsewhere could fill up again. Much will depend on last-minute bookings, they said.

Coronavirus cases topped 60,000 last month, leaving Turkey’s top five tourist sources – Russia, Germany, Britain, Bulgaria and Iran – with travel warnings in place.

Ankara said Moscow’s decision to halt most flights until June 1 blocked 500,000 tourists, compared to a total of 2.1 million Russians who came last year and some 6 million before the pandemic.

Yana Starostina, the manager of Travelland agency in Moscow, said clients still want to go to Turkey but added she expects it won’t be possible until August.

Turkey’s foreign and health ministers are set to visit Moscow on May 12 to discuss travel.

Tourism accounts for some 12 percent of Turkey’s economy and was the hardest hit sector last year, even though virus-related curbs had been lifted gradually by June 2020.

Hurriyet Daily News

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