Turkey launches vaccination campaign for tourism professionals

Turkey has launched a vaccination campaign for tourism professionals to boost a vital industry heavily impacted in 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The program covers the principal players in the tourism industry, including employees of accommodation facilities and restaurants, personnel of the companies providing vehicles for tours and transfers, and tourist guides.

Over 1 million tourism industry workers will be inoculated in total as part of the plan.

Turkey began its mass nationwide vaccination program in mid-January with the Chinese-made Sinovac vaccine giving priority to the elderly, and recently the Pfizer-BioNTech jabs have been included in the program.

“It will be a major lift for the industry and a significant development regarding Turkey’s image and the safe tourism program that we are promoting,” Volkan Yorulmaz, a board member of the Professional Hotel Managers Association of Turkey, told Xinhua.

“Tourism is the sector that is in contact with foreigners the most,” he said, adding that with the vaccinations, Turkey would have a competitive edge.

From April, the new tourism season is expected to gain momentum, with Russian tourists coming to the Mediterranean coastal cities, such as Antalya, which hosts hundreds of facilities and many ancient archaeological sites.

The pandemic has led to a considerable decline in tourist numbers in 2020 and slashed revenues by about two-thirds. The number of foreigners visiting the country last year fell about 72 percent from the previous year to 12.7 million, according to official data.

Meanwhile, 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.

Tourism is a very important source of income for Turkey, which has been experiencing economic difficulties.

Irfan Karsli, head of the Istanbul-based Ligarba Travel Agency, told Xinhua that the vaccination of tourism personnel would give Turkey leverage in the sector, which is expected to rebound gradually in 2021.

“It is a favorable move for the industry, which is reeling from the effects of the pandemic,” he said.

But he acknowledged that 2021 would also be rough, and demand and revenues will not reach pre-pandemic levels despite collective efforts from both the state and private sector partners.

Karsli’s company also offers services to Chinese tourists. He hoped that they will eventually return to Turkish resorts even though in smaller numbers when compared to the pre-pandemic figures.

“Chinese travelers have a very high hygiene awareness and always ask for safe tourism certificates during their travels, so the vaccination of tourism workers will help boost their confidence in our country,” Karsli said.

Turkey is witnessing a surge in daily coronavirus cases, which has forced authorities to tighten restrictions and put on hold a gradual normalization phase that began in mid-March.

Turkey’s Culture and Tourism Ministry last year launched the Safe Tourism Certification Program, which defines an extensive series of measures to prevent the spread of the pandemic and ensures the safety of tourists both in accommodation and transportation.