Turkey’s eastern tourism hotspot waits for Orient Express’ services to resume
Toygun Atilla / ISTANBUL
Turkey’s winter tourism hotspot, the eastern province of Kars, which is known for the famous Orient Express, is dealing with a tourism setback amid the coronavirus pandemic. The tourism income of the city has decreased by 80 percent.
“The Orient Express’ service has stopped. We are looking for the Scientific Advisory Board’s decision to start the service again,” said Türker Öksüz, the governor of Kars province.
As there is no train service, there are no tourists. According to the locals, the province has turned into a “ghost city” and “left to its destiny.”
The restaurant is open [under COVID-19 measures], but there is no local tourist. So, there is no way for us to keep the restaurant open,” said Özge Özyılmaz, a business owner.
“We have plumbed the depths. We are at a 100 percent loss. We have been surviving on some of the income that we had earned during the previous seasons,” said Can Uzunkaya, a business owner near Lake Çıldır.
Talking about the difficult days that he has been going through due to the restrictions and lack of tourists amid the ongoing pandemic, a taxi driver said: “Last year, I was driving around 300-400 kilometers a day. I was taking tourists to Lake Çıldır or Ruins of Ani. Now, I sometimes finish the day without even turning the car key.”
The accommodation sector of the province has been hit too.
According to Baha Onur Erdoğdu, the owner of the Katerina Palace Hotel, the occupancy rate now is only 28 percent, whereas it was 95 percent last year during the same days.
“Let me tell you what coronavirus has done to us. Just last year, the New Year’s reservations till 2022 were full. But now, we don’t have one. All of them have been canceled,” Erdoğdu added.
The governor is hopeful for the future. “We have decreased the number of virus cases in the city. We continued to invest in the city amid the pandemic. After the pandemic, we will welcome visitors again.”
The city is looking for the Orient Express to resume and bring tourists. Normally, Orient Express leaves at 5:55 p.m. every day and reaches Kars at 6:30 p.m. the next day, making it 24.5 hours of the trip in total.