By Ceyda Caglayan and Canan Sevgili
ISTANBUL – When Britain announced Turkey would remain on its ‘red list’ of travel destinations last week, Onur Arican decided to close its boutique hotel on the Aegean coast earlier this year rather than wait a summer season that has derailed by COVID-19 and forest fires.
In 2019, Britain was the third-largest source of tourists to Turkey with 2.5 million visitors that year, most of whom flocked to the Turquoise Coast near Bodrum and Marmaris, where Arican operates its Mavi Yengec hotel. of 19 rooms.
This year, the number of British guests has fallen by two-thirds compared to 2019, Arican said, and it has been forced to cut a third of its staff.
Offering discounts to Turks on vacation kept the business going, but alcohol sales fell sharply and he didn’t bother to open his larger room, he said.
Britain imposed COVID-19 travel restrictions on Turkey in October last year and added it to its “red list” in May, forcing all travelers to self-quarantine at a hotel upon their return.
Hundreds of hotel and travel agency owners on Turkey’s south coast hoped to drop the designation last week as a last chance to save the season, but Britain decided to extend the restriction until its next exam scheduled for September 15 or 16.
“Britain’s Red List has opened a new box of worms for Turkish tourism,” Arican said. “Due to the absence of the British, we will close on September 15th or maybe even sooner.”
Turkey’s tourist season usually ends in November. The sector is the engine of more than 10% of the economy, attracting vital hard currencies to offset a large trade deficit.
Foreign arrivals have quadrupled from last year thanks to holidaymakers from Russia, Germany and Arab countries, but remain well below 2019 levels.
A wave of forest fires last month in which nine people were killed had already forced many hotels in areas around Marmaris, Fethiye, Dalaman and Kusadasi to close early.
Still, it’s Britain’s decision on travel restrictions that many have taken like the nail in the coffin for the 2021 summer season.
In Marmaris alone, around 600 hotels are expected to close in the coming days due to London’s decision last week, said Bulent Bulbuloglu, chairman of the South Aegean Hoteliers Union.
“They were all waiting for a last chance for the season, but after the last UK update most of them will be closed by the first days of September,” he said. Many will struggle to survive until next season, he added.
Hotels in the region met with banks and the tourism minister two weeks ago to discuss loan restructuring.
Data from the banking regulator shows a total of lira 114.5 billion ($ 13.8 billion) in loans in the Turkish hotel industry, with non-performing loans of 4.5 billion pounds ($ 541 million) to the end of July.
Can Tolga Eroglu, owner of three hotels near Marmaris, said only 25 of its 118 total rooms are occupied. Usually 90% of its guests are from Great Britain.
“Hotels are expected to have a 95% occupancy rate these months,” Eroglu said. “Because Turkey has been kept on the red list, many facilities will decide to close. Marmaris seems to have its worst August and September.
Menderes Akbulut, managing director of Koral Travel, which primarily serves the UK market, said many small hotels have already started to close. “If the British came, the season would continue until mid-November,” he said.