Turkey’s banks are expanding the network of Russian payment system Mir to help lure tourists to the country, Finance Minister Nureddin Nebati said, predicting that the country would break a record for tourism income this year.
Visitors from Russia will not struggle to pay for goods and services in Turkey as Mir continues to grow, Nebati said after a cabinet meeting, CNN Türk television reported on Tuesday.
Turkey is seeking to attract tourists from Russia, which supplied the most visitors to the country last year, to help boost its foreign currency earnings and economic growth. The Turkish government has refused to implement sanctions on Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine and flights to and from Russia have been expanded by national carrier Turkish Airlines.
“The proportion of businesses accepting the Mir card was around 15 percent, and banks are distributing more right now,” Nebati said. “There will not be any problem (making payments).”
The number of tourists visiting Turkey in the first quarter of the year has neared record levels despite the war in Ukraine, according to data for its main tourism hub of Antalya, the top destination for Russian tourists.
Nebati said he expected Turkey to exceed its target of 45 million tourists and the record $35 billion of income earned from tourism in 2019 because hotel occupancy rates were over 90 percent as of May. “There will be no room in Istanbul hotels in May,” he said.
The number of tourists visiting Antalya by air between January 1 and April 23 more than doubled to 1.02 million compared with 412,729 in the first four months of last year, the Diken news website said on Monday citing official data. Some 1.2 million people visited the city and surrounding region in the same period of 2019, a record year for tourism, it said.
The war in Ukraine stands to threaten Turkey’s income from tourism because Russians and Ukrainians totalled more than a quarter of all visitors last year. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is relying on the income to help steady the lira, which lost 44 percent of its value in 2021, and to finance the country’s widening current account deficit.
U.S. payment firms Visa and Mastercard have suspended operations in Russia over the invasion. That means Russians banking in Russia cannot use payment systems from the firms domestically or when travelling to countries such as Turkey.