Turkey hopes to revive tourism, expects revenue drop

Turkey is hoping to revive tourism in the coming weeks with a strict plan, but the number of visitor and revenues will drop in the new normal and have an impact on the economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic, professionals said.

Turkey expects to restart domestic tourism in late May and international tourism after mid-June, culture and tourism minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy said last week.

“I hope tourism will start with some tourism mobility domestically by May 28,” he said, speaking to broadcaster NTV.

“We also expect international tourism to start with some countries after mid-June,” Ersoy added.

The first destinations might be Asian countries, including China and South Korea, he noted.

Ersoy stressed that Turkey started a detailed certification program for hotels over the novel coronavirus outbreak. “It (the certification program) was the first in the world, and the EU also decided to initiate a similar one,” the minister stressed.

In 2019, Turkey’s annual tourism revenue rose to an all time high, hitting 34.5 billion U.S. dollars with a total of 45 million arrivals, according to official data.

Tourism revenues account for around 10 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP), thus extremely important for the already ailing economy, which has like all the virus-hit countries been impacted by the pandemic.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, Ankara had targeted 58 million tourists and 41 billion dollars, but these targets are now unlikely to be met.

“If we could meet over half of this target, I believe it would be a success. The year started horribly and as this virus is not ready to leave us alone,” Serkan Yagci, a travel agency manager from Ankara, told Xinhua.

“For us as travel agencies, it’s possible the biggest crisis that we had to live through, and we don’t know how domestic and foreign tourists are going to react to the new norms defined by the authorities,” he said, stressing that losses in revenues would be considerable.

Meanwhile, the Tourism Ministry reportedly will resume tourism under the guidance of 132 well-defined and comprehensive measures against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Turkey has launched telephone diplomacy with 70 countries to inform them about the health infrastructure, ensuring them that Turkey is safe for tourism, Ersoy said.

Protective suits and facial masks will be available at the entrance of every tourism facility, and body temperatures will be recorded with thermal sensors.

Tourism representatives said standard open buffets, as seen in many all-inclusive hotels, will be suspended. Likewise, group tour will be required to cut the number of tourists to reduce the risks of spread of virus.

Currently, 90 to 95 percent of tourism facilities across the country are closed as a precautionary measure to curb the outbreak of the coronavirus.

Irfan Karsli, owner of the Istanbul-based Ligarba tourism agency, hailed the measures but said that the prospect is not optimistic this year.

“We still don’t know if the pandemic will allow us to have a tourism season. Even if we can control the health situation, we have to give assurances to our clients that everything will be ok once they are here and this is difficult,” he told Xinhua.

He argued that Asian tourists would be reluctant to travel to Turkey in the coming months, at least during the current stage of the pandemic.

“Business people, academics and other related professionals from Asia will eventually return to Turkey, but I think that traditional tourists will skip Turkey or any other country for some time,” he remarked.

In order to make up for some of the losses, Turkey will start accepting foreign patients next week from 31 countries, such as Greece, Russia, Germany, Britain, the Netherlands and Pakistan, within the framework of health tourism.

Only COVID-19 negative individuals will be accepted in the health facilities of Turkey.

In recent years, Turkey has become a destination for health tourism, attracting over 1 million foreign patients in 2018, according to official data.