Scenes from a long vacation

Scenes from a long vacation

Another Band-Aid solution to the crippling tourism in Turkey’s coastline was to extend Eid al-Adha to 10 days. More than twice the time Prophet Mohammad had ordered. The purpose is to fill the hotels in the south for double the price they would normally charge. But would it really help?

On a standard August afternoon in Bodrum, you should be seeing British, French, some Dutch and some Russian tourists shopping in the supermarket if not at the traditional Thursday Yalıkavak Bazaar. This year the crowd is remarkably different. There are very few, if any, European tourists vacationing in Bodrum and surroundings. The minibuses that are usually stuffed with people on the road to Türkbükü and Yalıkavak have different customers.

At the end of August, AK Parti (Justice and Development Party) officials and the Tourism Ministry can still brag about the headcount of tourists or bed occupancy rates. Statistics, after all, is a numbers game where you can manipulate the numbers as much as you want. But reality on the ground is very grave and people are not shy about it anymore.

“This 10 day thing is just a waste,” my taxi driver from Yalıkavak to Bodrum Airport told me. “The people who would normally vacation during that period had to cancel their trips because the prices skyrocketed. The hotels brag about filling every room but it is not true. Normal vacationers with children who could stay five days became unable to afford it. Foreigners who had slightly considered coming cancelled, because for 10 days, it seemed like a huge and expensive joke.”

Literally, a reasonable five-star hotel vacation in Antalya for two adults and two kids during the religious holiday costs more than 8,000 Turkish Liras. Can any family that lives on the income of both adults afford to toss both salaries on a vacation like that? 

“Normally the season in Bodrum would last until the end of September. But this long vacation has practically killed all opportunities to take time off in the fall. We have to end the summer season earlier than normal. Because technically nobody will come after September,” my driver continued.

The government is rushing to get its cash crunch in order. That is why the dollar and the euro have come down in the final days before the long vacation. People in need of money have sold their currencies and the government probably bought a lot of it. Sad, but real. The government now needs money from the vacationers to fix their budget.

One long year after the bloody coup attempt, tourism is the biggest loser in the Turkish economy. It is the third year in a row that Turkey’s biggest currency earning sector is losing its breath. According to local sources, Bodrum’s business is even 25 percent worse than right after the coup attempt last year. “Last year, European tourists had come despite the coup attempt. They had made their reservations earlier and most of them did not cancel. This year, it is a whole different story,” said one Bodrum resident.

Turkey’s economy is dependent on hot foreign currency to run its mills. Ask any small shop owner in Yalıkavak, Gündoğan or inside Bodrum and you will witness their suffering. They believe the Europeans are gone and will not come back for a long time. And it has nothing to do with our long holidays or prices.