The tourist you are calling is not available

The tourist you are calling is not available

Two young people I know are trying to survive these economic times managing a boutique hotel they took pains to open in Istanbul. Their location is superb: the Karaköy district that has been the rising star of last couple of years. 

The hotel is especially preferred by young international tourists; it is decorated quite modern and with good taste. Madonna’s daughter Lourdes also stayed there recently.   

I dropped in for a morning coffee and asked, “How is business?”

The managers first mentioned that reservations of German tourists immediately stopped after the nefarious attack at Sultanahmet and then they told me the devastation caused by the cancellation of cruise reservations one after the other. They explained how much effort they were exerting to keep the 20-room hotel in business. I could only wish them good luck… 

A couple of hours later, I was chatting with a waiter friend I have known for years at a Beyoğlu restaurant frequented by tourists. I asked him how business was and heard similar things: “We have fewer customers; there are no groups. There is a hotel we recommend for our out-of-town customers. They usually charge 400 Turkish Liras, never any less. Last week, we had customers coming from İzmir for the Fenerbahçe-Beşiktaş game and they stayed at a rate of 100 liras. Everybody is desperate in the business…”

I know that the touristic microcosm I have conveyed is not enough to reflect the size of the ongoing drama. It is obvious that the nine-item tourism support plan Prime Minister Davutoğlu disclosed recently is palliative, in other words, temporary, and not adequate enough to put out the fire.

It is of course important that the tourism sector, one of the driving powers of the economy that provides jobs in Turkey, is supported by loans, incentives, loan refinancing and bureaucratic facilitations; these will bring a certain comfort. 

But the loss being experienced is truly vast… There was a story the other day that said only 55 (yes, fifty-five) Russian tourists arrived in Antalya in February. It is apparent this figure does not correspond to the prime minister’s ease, as he says, “Turkey has been engraved on the touristic memories of Russians; once they have been here, they will come again. Come on.” 

Last year during the same period, 8,307 Russian tourists arrived. The loss must be something like 99 percent…

The drop is not only due to the crisis with Russia. In February 2015, 128,810 tourists of all nationalities came to Antalya; this year, this figure is 78,100. It is not only our tourism hub of Antalya that is going through this tremor. This crisis is expanding rapidly and having an impact everywhere. 

Luxury cruises that bring “rich tourists” are cancelling Istanbul, Kuşadası and Bodrum calls (in short, Turkey), one by one. Giant cruise operators such as MSC, Aida, Crystal, Costa, Oceanea, Thomson, Disney Cruise Line and Regent Seven Seas are removing Turkey from their programs.   

Cruise ships brought 1,800,000 tourists to Turkey in 2015. The head of the Bodrum Association of Professional Hotel managers, Serdar Karcıoğlu, said “[In 2016,] 200,000 people have lost their jobs; we will experience the biggest crisis of the past 30 years.”

The figure of 200,000 jobs is enough to demonstrate the harshness of the situation. Experts in the sector have said relations with Israel that were severed five years ago were only newly blossoming. And this was from an optimistic standpoint. They predict that it will take 10 years to repair business with Russia. 

The nature of tourism makes it a very dynamic sector. A solution lies in finding realistic and reasonable plans.  
I would not dare to suggest anything to them but I have a recommendation for those who believe they can support tourism with palliative measures.  

Simply stating, “Turkey is safe; I repeat, Turkey is safe,” will not make any difference. Turkey has to be saved from being a country where life is steered by weapons and bombs.

Tourism business cannot be run by telling ourselves, “We are very beautiful; we are very safe.” 

I really wish the best for the entire sector; they have tough times ahead...