Tourism should be revived, but serious measures are essential
It would probably be unrealistic for anyone to claim that they are not affected by this ongoing pandemic period. Are we finally leaving behind the pandemic and restrictions it brought?
Right, there is a massive vaccination campaign going on. Soon we may start talking about the success of vaccinating over 60 percent of our people, and the time has come for gaining herd immunity. Yet, I hope that we won’t be disappointed and that we won’t be caught in a bigger wave and fight for survival again if we prefer to turn a blind eye to the dangers of a probable resurge in pandemic due to fast normalization for the sake of saving the tourism industry and the overall Turkish economy.
Particularly during a depressive pandemic atmosphere, it is important to rest once in a while and recharge the batteries. A safe holiday should be everyone’s right. Even at a time of rising unemployment and economic hardship, perhaps with proper credit, our people should be given the opportunity to breathe a sigh of relief with a few days of holiday. From July 17, for instance, the government might help arrange a nine-day holiday by breaching weekends and religious holidays.
Since the beginning of the last week, agencies report an average of 25,000 tourists a day, mostly from Russia, flowing into Antalya airport. British and German tourists are yet to come. Antalya beaches are still empty. Camellias, sunbeds, cafes, bars and restaurants on the beaches are so empty that no one needs to say, “Oh, there is a pandemic, wear your mask, maintain at least two meters of distance and follow the rules of hygiene.”
As a matter of fact, while we dream of “fully opening” on July 1, the World Health Organization (WHO) has been issuing warning after warning. The Delta variant (B.1.617.2) of COVID-19 has so far been detected in 44 countries. This variant is reported to be spreading at least twice faster than other variants, and apparently, is believed to be twice lethal.
Of course, serving meals from behind the glass curtains by hotel staff seems to be an important measure applied efficiently. However, very few hotel guests wear masks in public areas. The beaches are far from being crowded so far. The WHO insists that despite double vaccinations, people can become carriers, and the fact that tourists with double vaccinations can travel to Turkey without the PCR test is a matter of concern for me. On the other hand, is it not appropriate to plan for a rapid third dose of vaccine in Turkey, especially for those who received the Sinovac vaccine? Is it not possible to ask all tourists – including those with double vaccination – to go through PCR testing at most 72 hours before traveling to Turkey?
On the other hand, rising temperatures make it difficult to use masks. People are having trouble breathing. Tourists in hotels either don’t wear masks at all, or they put them on reluctantly as a “chin ornament.” The staff at hotels seem to have been seriously warned. However, most staff, especially the younger ones, follow the fashion in the form of “nose cleavage.” It is difficult to overcome ignorance.
Turkey’s annual tourism revenue exceeded $33 billion in 2019, and plans were underway to move it up towards the $50 billion target but fell to $12 billion in 2020 due to the pandemic. Global tourism revenues also declined to a one-third level. Both Turkey and world tourism are looking for ways out of this crisis. Cruise ships worth tens of millions of dollars might soon face the risk of becoming scrap metal. It looks like the situation might be far worse tomorrow if some urgent measures are not taken.
No, I am not being pessimistic. Under the pressure of accumulated debts, interest rates and investment needs, accumulation might create a bigger problem when the gear of the industry starts to turn and accelerate tomorrow. Incentives on transportation and accommodation are a must but not enough, messages from hoteliers and other tourism industry representatives stressed. During this long period, when hotels are closed, as well as travel companies, service companies, and of course, restaurants and bars are locked, the increase in input prices, especially electricity, is making it difficult for the sector to breathe. It is mentioned that mass bankruptcies might be inevitable if there is no solution to accumulated taxes, loans and similar problems that, for the sake of sailing through this period, were taken albeit under favorable conditions but now must be paid back.
Of course, we’re all in the same boat. It is very important to bring tourism revenues to a $50 billion level or even higher. However, serious measures should be developed, taking into account both public health and the health of tourism sector companies.