ISTANBUL – Turkey’s tourism sector faces another lost season after a rapid rise in coronaviruses wiped out many early foreign bookings and prompted Russia, its main source of visitors, to halt flights and warn against travel this summer.
In a final move to reduce infections and save the season, President Tayyip Erdogan last week imposed a partial lockdown until mid-May, he said, so that European countries do not leave the country. Turkey by reopening beaches, restaurants and travel.
Foreign money spent by tourists is key to offsetting Turkey’s heavy external debt, but income fell 65% last year when the pandemic first hit.
The tourism minister said 30 million foreigners could arrive this year, twice as many as last year, if the lockdown succeeds in reducing daily COVID-19 cases to less than 5,000 from nearly 30,000 in recent days .
But travel agents, associations and hotels have said they fear this year will be little better than the last after the wave of the virus briefly ranked Turkey second in the world in new cases just at the start of the season. , before falling back to fourth place.
Some Turkish and Russian agents are seeing a tough few months until August, when they say Mediterranean and Aegean hotspots and historic sites in Istanbul and elsewhere could fill up again. Much will depend on last minute bookings, they said.
“The lockdown decision is unlikely to be able to save the season” because it was taken too late, said Cem Polatoglu, general manager of the Istanbul-based Andiamo Tour.
Even though the lockdown reduces daily coronavirus cases to less than 5,000 by the end of May, as the government hopes, it said countries are taking time to remove travel advisories “which probably means also lose July “.
Coronavirus cases topped 60,000 last month, leaving Turkey’s top five tourism sources – Russia, Germany, Britain, Bulgaria and Iran – with travel warnings in place.
Ankara said Moscow’s decision to stop most flights until June 1 has stranded 500,000 tourists, up from a total of 2.1 million Russians who came last year and about 6 million before the pandemic.
The flight ban could be extended. Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova said last week that Russian operators should not sell circuits even after June 1 until the authorities decide.
Yana Starostina, director of the Travelland agency in Moscow, said clients still wanted to visit Turkey, but added that she expects it won’t be possible until August.
Turkish foreign and health ministers are due to visit Moscow on May 12 to discuss travel.
Mediterranean tourist hubs are trying to lock down bookings despite a changing map of travel advisories, local restrictions and vaccine rollouts.
Neighboring Greece last week lifted quarantine restrictions on more virus-free visitors, while Turkey will drop virus testing requirements for travelers from Britain, China, Ukraine and a few other d ‘here mid-May.
Tourism accounts for around 12% of the Turkish economy and was the hardest hit sector last year, even though the brakes linked to the virus were lifted in June.
Turkey’s current account deficit soared to $ 37 billion last year when tourists brought in just $ 12 billion, from a record high of $ 35 billion in 2019.
Although arrivals were down 54% year-over-year in the first quarter, Tourism and Culture Minister Mehmet Ersoy said a sharp drop in coronavirus infections since April 21 was a sign of hope that “drastic” lockdown measures were working.
âFrom June 1, we will open the tourist season and if we can reduce the number of daily cases below 5,000, we maintain our target of 30 million tourists this year,â he said.
It sounds optimistic to others.
Polatoglu of Andiamo Tour expects just 6 million arrivals this year and said about half of Turkey’s 12,000 tourist agents are already closed, many of whom are unable to repay government loans meant to mitigate the fallout from the pandemic. .
Bora Kok, sales manager at Bora Bora Boutique Hotel in Antalya on the Mediterranean, where the tourist season usually begins in April, said the lockdown was late but was welcome.
“If Russian tourists do not come, there will be serious bankruptcies and potential layoffs,” he said.
Erdogan’s government is hoping the lockdown, a campaign that has so far vaccinated 16% of the population, and a safe hotel certification program will propel last-minute bookings.
Aegean-based Peninsula Tours has not registered more than 20 advance bookings per day through March and April in its Dalaman region, up from around 300 last year, said regional manager Ali Kirli. “Early booking has almost stopped.”
The president of the Turkish Hotel Federation, Sururi Corabatir, told Reuters: “We had hopes for 2021. Unfortunately, the number of cases has not been at the desired levels.”