Arabs Help Fill Turkey’s Tourism Gap As Brits Still Banned

Arab visitors drawn to non-quarantine travel and affordable prices are helping to bolster the rebound in Turkey’s tourism industry, which seeks to fill the void left by the British, for whom the country remains banned.

On vacation with his family in Istanbul, Jordanian Omar Zahra, 48, said flying from Amman was a better choice than destinations in the Gulf, where a failed COVID-19 test would result in quarantine, or those in the European Union, which briefly banned travelers from Jordan.

“You don’t have to go to Europe. It’s much more expensive… and they still have some restrictions, ”he said this week on a boat trip through the Bosphorus Strait as nine Jordanians sipped Turkish coffee and took photos of palaces in the Ottoman era.

Jordanian couple Omar Zahra and Ghader Zahra pose with their children after a boat trip on the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey, July 12, 2021. (Photo Reuters)

His sister Muna Abuzahra asked the guide if they would sail near the Abud Efendi mansion on the waterfront, where the Turkish TV series “Noor” – one of the most popular shows in Arab countries – is filmed.

“It’s the best place to go for the price, culture, nature, food and weather,” Zahra added.

Turkey’s tourism sector accounts for up to 12% of the economy and is a key source of foreign income to compensate for large trade imbalances.

Last year, the sector was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. From 2019 to 2020, arrivals fell 69% and revenues fell from $ 34.5 billion to $ 12 billion.

Officials expect this year’s profit margins to return closer to pre-pandemic levels, despite the spate of COVID-19 cases that resulted in a partial lockdown in May.

Some 936,282 tourists arrived in May, jumping 3,038% from just 29,829 in May 2020, according to data from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

The figure was still a fraction of the 4 million that came in 2019 before the pandemic hit.

Arrivals over the January-May period fell 14.27% to 3.68 million, down from 4.29 million a year ago. Some 12.75 million tourists arrived in the five months of 2019 before the start of the pandemic.

During the first week of July, passenger numbers at airports were at their highest level since the start of the pandemic, according to the State Airports Authority.

Flights from Russia, Turkey’s largest source of vacationers, resumed last month and the Germans, the second-largest source, are also making reservations, according to travel industry executives.

But the absence of Britons, for whom it remains a redlisted destination restricted to all but essential travel, partly means that Turkey’s international air traffic was still down 52% in June compared to June 2019.

Qataris and Kuwaitis too

Meanwhile, non-quarantine travel and affordable prices have boosted demand from the Middle East, executives say.

“We are seeing huge demand and big budget bookings from Jordan … At the moment this appears to be our number one market in the region,” said Serdar Ali Abet, President of Karnak Travel, who is mainly specializes in the Gulf and Middle East markets. .

Foreign tourists visit Büyükada, the largest of the Princes' Islands in the Sea of ​​Marmara, off Istanbul, Turkey, July 14, 2021. (Photo Reuters)

Foreign tourists visit Büyükada, the largest of the Princes’ Islands in the Sea of ​​Marmara, off Istanbul, Turkey, July 14, 2021. (Photo Reuters)

With holiday traffic from Qatar and the Palestinian territories also on the rise, he estimated Arab holidaymakers would reach 50% of pre-pandemic levels this year, held back in part by political friction with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and The Lebanon Economic Crisis.

Citing Kuwait’s request, Ülkay Atmaca, managing director of Innvista Hotels Belek, said Turkey’s Mediterranean hotels were doing better than expected, although reaching 2019 levels this year was impossible.

Jordanian Abuzahra had returned after vacationing in the Mediterranean seaside town of Antalya a few years ago.

“We have heard so much about Istanbul,” she said. “If you want to go to Bethany (in Jordan), the Dead Sea or Aqaba, you will spend a lot more than here. It is a good choice and a good price.

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