Turkey’s tourism industry is headed for a good year as revenues nearly tripled in the second quarter, which is a boon for the vulnerable economy hit by both the COVID-19 pandemic and a sharp decline of local currency, tourism professionals and operators said.
REBOUNDING TO NEAR PRE-PANDEMIC LEVELS
The number of foreign tourists visiting Turkey’s in the quarter rebounded to near pre-pandemic levels as the lira’s decline against hard currencies turned Turkey into a more attractive holiday destination.
Tourism revenues are key to the Turkish economy suffering from a currency slump, near 80-percent inflation and widening current account deficit.
Türkiye earned 8.72 billion U.S. dollars from tourism in the second quarter of this year, almost tripled from 3 billion dollars in the April-June period of 2021, putting it on course for a record year, according to local media.
Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey aimed to generate 37 billion dollars in tourism revenues and attract 47 million tourists this year, revising the previous targets of 35 billion dollars and 45 million tourists.
Volkan Yorulmaz, a board member of the Professional Hotel Managers Association of Turkey, said that this would be a reasonable target.
“Overall it won’t be difficult to reach a total of over 40 million foreign visitors this year, including 12 million in Antalya, Turkey’s biggest tourism hub on the sunny Mediterranean coast,” Yorulmaz said.
Yorulmaz, who is also the general manager of a holiday resort in Antalya’s Kemer District which is very popular with Russian and Ukrainian tourists, explained that the industry had a rough start this year due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict that broke out in February.
“We were hopeful for this year until the conflict erupted. Our expectations decreased a bit, but after May, the industry rebounded here with the arrivals of Russian planes which were a relief for the sector,” he said.
In April-June 2022, foreign visitors jumped to 11.9 million from 4.07 million a year ago, according to recently announced official data.
Tourism income in the first half of the year totaled 14.2 billion dollars, exceeding that of 2019, which was a record year.
Tour company owner Recep Yavuz, who conducted research on the tourism activity in Antalya by interviewing more than 50 hotels, said that daily entries of foreign tourists amounted to 80,000-90,000.
Explaining that many hotels are trying to direct those who cannot find a place in Antalya to alternative destinations, Yavuz said that local hotels are currently experiencing the peak season of 2019.
“It looks like Antalya will experience one of its best seasons this year,” Yavuz said.
BOOMING TOURISM HELPS FINANCE ECONOMY
Turkey is seeking to boost revenues from tourism to help finance a current account deficit that has widened alarmingly this year due to interest rate cuts and a surge in imports.
The bigger deficit has pressured the lira, which has lost more than a quarter of its value in 2022 after declining by 45 percent last year.
Tourism revenues account for nearly 9 percent of the Turkish gross domestic product (GDP) and are crucial for the already low foreign currency reserves of the Turkish central bank.
Turkey’s tourism GDP is projected to grow by 5.5 percent annually over the next decade, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council, representing 11 percent of the total economy by 2032.
Irfan Karsli, head of the Istanbul-based Ligarba Travel Agency, told Xinhua that things were looking better for this year, especially with a big rise in numbers of tourists visiting Istanbul, the biggest Turkish city and another tourism hub.
“Istanbul is one of the top 50 most visited cities in the world. Also, the decline of the lira has been good news for foreign holidaymakers,” he said.
With its rich cultural and historical landmarks, Istanbul has become one of the largest shopping centers in the European region by consisting of shopping malls and centers. According to the official statistics, 7 million tourists visited Istanbul in the first six months of this year.
Known as a destination where Europe meets Asia that has long captivated visitors with its culture, art and history, Istanbul is seeing a significant increase in the number of foreigners arriving for shopping and health tourism, Karsli added.
But while the decline of the lira turned Turkey into a more affordable destination than rivals Greece, Italy or Spain, it has a downside for Turkish resorts which have seen their costs skyrocketing because of high inflation.
“Runaway inflation has considerably increased our costs in every single field. Income is high but so are costs, and some resorts and hotels are suffering from this situation,” Yorulmaz added. ■