By Ceyda Caglayan and Canan Sevgili
ISTANBUL (Reuters) – The number of foreigners arriving in Turkey last month more than tripled from a year earlier, data showed on Monday, bolstering expectations that a rebound in the sector will help repair a battered economy. a weak currency and high inflation.
Industry officials expect tourist numbers this year to return to around 2019 levels, leaving behind the 2020-21 coronavirus crisis despite the fallout from war in Ukraine.
Foreign arrivals in April jumped 225.6% from a year earlier to 2.57 million, according to data from the Ministry of Tourism.
In the southwestern resort of Bodrum, Mayor Ahmet Aras said foreign visitors would reach 1.5 million, surpassing 1.3 million in the pre-pandemic year of 2019.
Aras said the British, Germans and Dutch would return, attracted by the weakness of the pound, offsetting the decline in Russian and Ukrainian visitors due to the war.
“We really are a cheap destination now. Not only Bodrum but Turkey itself, which has again become a very attractive destination due to the weakness of the lira,” he said.
The lira has halved in value over the past year, attracting attention in countries that were previously only small sources of Turkish tourism. Piotr Henicz, chairman of Poland’s biggest tour operator Itaka, said bookings had tripled compared to last year.
“In a nutshell: excellent value for money,” he said.
Last year, tourism revenue doubled to almost $25 billion – still below $34.5 billion in 2019, when 45.1 million foreigners visited Turkey.
A currency crisis late last year largely propelled inflation to a two-decade high of 70% last month.
The government says foreign earnings will help stabilize the currency and dampen rising prices, even though the trade balance has plunged further into negative territory.
HISTORY OF TWO HOT SPOTS
According to a report by the World Travel & Tourism Council, Turkey is expected to be the fourth most popular European destination this summer.
Yet east of Bodrum, in the main Mediterranean center of Antalya, the impact of the war is more acute. Russians and Ukrainians were the first and third largest sources of visitors to the country last year, and they both favor the region.
Antalya is expected to lose about 3 million Russian tourists and 1 million Ukrainians this year, about two-thirds of its total, said Recep Yavuz, managing director of NBK Touristic.
“Antalya cannot fill its capacity of 600,000 beds without the Russians,” he said.
Ulkay Atmaca, head of the Professional Association of Hotel Managers, said hotels in Kemer have postponed season openings until June.
Still, Nirvana Hotels chief executive Korhan Alsan said with outstanding bookings in all European markets, the country is expected to reach 2019 levels.
“I estimate that Turkey will get tourism revenue worth $32 billion and welcome 39 million tourists,” Alsan said.
(Reporting by Ceyda Caglayan and Canan Sevgili; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Ed Osmond)