Turkey’s tourism sector sees a cold summer

Turkey’s tourism sector sees a cold summer

The Turkish tourism sector is facing one of the coldest summers it has seen in the last decade, and several factors have contributed to the chilly atmosphere. Sector representatives said they are taking various measures to minimize the expected losses this year, including speeding up their efforts to diversify tourism markets and discovering new tourism areas that promise growth potential, such as medical tourism. Much is, however, needed to strengthen the sector. 

Let’s have a look at the reasons behind the declining figures in the tourism sector. The prominent factor seems to be a dramatic decrease in the number of Russian tourists flowing into Turkey, mainly to the Mediterranean resort of Antalya, due to the economic problems in Russia. According to official data, the number of Russian tourists visiting Turkey decreased by around 30 percent in the first five months of the year from the same period of 2014. This fact is, of course, not reserved for only the Turkish tourism sector, as the number of Russians leaving home for vacation dropped 40.3 percent during the first quarter of this year, according to official figures from the Russian Federal State Statistics Service (Rosstat). A total of 1.3 million Russian tourists opted not to go on vacation outside of Russia during the first three months of 2015; while 3.1 million Russians went on an international vacation during the first quarter of last year, that figure dropped to 1.8 million during the same period this year. For Russian tourism experts, Russia’s crisis hit European destinations the hardest, as the ruble has lost great value against the euro. 

The decrease in the number of Russian tourists, however, means a lot for Turkey, as Russia is the second largest tourism provider for the country. According to data from the Turkish Tourism Ministry, over 39 million foreign tourists visited the country last year, making the country the sixth most visited country across the world. Russia sat in second place with 4.5 million tourists, coming just after Germany with 5.2 million tourists. If the general decreasing trend in the number of Russian tourists visiting Turkey does not change, Turkey may host 1 million fewer Russian tourists this year compared to 2014, according to tourism representatives. This will cause a loss of more than $2 billion in the country’s tourism income this year. 

The government has said various methods of support would be given to lure more Russian tourists to Turkey, but sector representatives have said they do not know whether this support was offered, or if it would work. In this vein, they noted that they have taken various measures to minimize the negative effects of the decrease in the number of Russian tourists. 

One sector representative said it would be inevitable to slash hotel prices and expand the scope of all-inclusive hotel offerings to minimize income losses, although they do not prefer this in normal conditions.

Turkey increased its tourism income from $8 billion in 2000 to $34 billion in 2014, becoming the 12th largest tourism income earner of the world. The sector’s volume may compensate some losses this year, but more is needed to overcome any future losses. 

Another factor lying behind the decreasing figures in the sector seems to be the holy month of Ramadan in the hot summer season, during which many local tourists prefer to spend their time at home. Although some sector representatives expect a hike in local tourists after the Eid Ramadan in July, some others are not that hopeful due to several factors. First of all, they said the share of local tourists in the total tourist numbers is already very low and some rise in the number of local tourists would make only a slight contribution to the total income. Besides, they said the number of local tourists who prefer to spend their holidays abroad has been on the rise, despite the dramatic loss in the Turkish Lira against the U.S. dollar and euro. According to them, some 1 million Turks have already made reservations in Greece, which makes around 25 percent discounts in hotel and tour prices to lure more tourists amid the economic crisis, for the coming months. 

Sector representatives said they are focusing on diversifying the markets to minimize the negative effects of the decreasing tourist figures. In this vein, a series of promotional activities has been used to attract more tourists from Arabic countries as well as the Far East. According to them, they have begun to harvest the yields of these efforts, although there are miles left to drive. For instance, there has been a sharp increase in the number of Iranian tourists visiting the country. The number of Iranian tourists visiting Istanbul rose by 35 percent in the first five months of the year compared to the same period 2014, official data has shown. 

Other efforts have focused on the diversification of tourism areas. One of the most promising new tourism areas for the country is medical tourism, although the share of the income from medical tourism is still very low in the total, according to sector representatives. Out of the roughly 40 million tourists who visited Turkey last year, around 500,000 came for surgical procedures, from hair transplants and liposuction to cancer and orthopedic treatment, according to the Turkish Statistical Institute. 

Last, but not the least, several reports show that Turkey’s security and safety perceptions are very low and much is needed to solve this problem. According to the World Economic Forum’s “The Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index 2015 Ranking,” Turkey was ranked 44th in the competitiveness index, although the country was the sixth most popular tourism destination. Turkey’s ranking took its biggest hit in the safety and security index of the report. The country was ranked 121st in the 141-country list in giving the perception of being a country which is “safe and secure.”

All of these factors show the country needs to focus on taking robust steps to realize its huge tourism potential, not only for this year, but for the coming years as well.