What should Turkey do to win 2021 tourism year?
As one of the most important touristic destinations in the world, it goes without saying that tourism revenues are very important for the economy of Turkey. Under normal conditions, Turkey has the capacity of hosting around 70 million tourists annually with around $50 billion income. That’s why Turkey has become one of the most suffering countries from the continued COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, Turkey hosted around 16 million tourists with $12 billion in revenues, marking around a 65 percent decrease compared to 2019.
The current state of Turkey’s fight against COVID-19 is not unfortunately promising a good year for the Turkish tourism sector which hopes to launch the season by June 1. The main problem stems from the fact that the EU will unlikely lift travel restrictions towards Turkey in the coming period. In addition, Russia’s temporary ban on charter flights to Turkey will generate more troubles for Turkish tourism.
Currently, based on a seven-day average, the number of new cases per 100,000 is around 950 in Istanbul, 550 in Ankara and 400 in İzmir, Turkey’s three largest cities, respectively. As known, the government has announced new restrictions 10 days ago in a bid to curb the spread of the coronavirus, but the figures show that the efforts to reduce the numbers give slower results due to new variant viruses.
If the government does not take harsher measures, like a full lockdown, bringing the pandemic under control will take much longer than planned. More public health experts are suggesting so, urging that a delay in taking tangible measures can cause the further intensification of the healthcare system. Health Minister Fahrettin Koca’s statement that 71 percent of the intensive care units in Istanbul and 69 percent of ICUs across Turkey are already occupied.
While Turkey is fighting to slow down the spread of the coronavirus, Turkey’s regional tourism rivals have already accelerated their works to lure tourists this summer. Greece is prepared to open its border more broadly to tourists as it started allowing travelers from the EU and several other countries to visit without a previously required period of self-isolation. Italy, Spain, Portugal and France are also taking fresh measures to attract tourists by ensuring safe tourism. The EU is still pondering how to issue a travel certificate for those who are vaccinated but initial plans for the 2021 summer do not envisage Turkey as a safe tourism spot. Germany, last week, has changed the category of Turkey as a risky destination based on the fact that the number of new cases per 100,000 is much higher than 200.
Likewise, the Russian decision to suspend flights until June 1 has caused a major disappointment for the tourism sector, particularly in the southern coasts. Even under pandemic conditions, Russia sent more than 2 million tourists last year and was planning to send even more tourists this year.
Moscow assured Turkey that the decision is purely non-political and based on the health situation in Turkey. That tells us that in case the situation doesn’t improve in Turkey, Russia’s suspension of flights can be extended. In the meantime, a decision by Moscow to resume years-long stalled charter flights to the Egyptian resorts can also create trouble for Turkish tourism.
Being aware of the growing problem, Culture and Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy is planning to promote new safeguards to assure both the European and Russian governments. A certification his ministry created last year worked especially in the second part of the year, but more should be done in this tourism season due to the changing nature of the coronavirus.
However, before that, the government should rush to re-assess the situation and act in a more decisive way to curb the spread of the virus. Otherwise, 2021 may be a lost year for the Turkish tourism industry.