Turkey’s tourism sector battles fallout from Ukraine conflictTravel And Tour World

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Published on: Wednesday May 11, 2022

Turkey is one of the most popular holiday destinations in the world, with most international tourists coming from Russia.

Last year, about 4.7 million Russian tourists visited Turkey.

German holidaymakers were the second largest group, followed by Ukrainians.

But war and tourism don’t really mix.

Although Turkey is not involved in the war between Russia and Ukraine, it will feel the impact of the war in its tourism sector.

There are already clear indications of this now, long before the start of the summer season.

Drop in demand and reservations

This year, players in the Turkish tourism industry are worried about the future. The hotel sector is hardest hit by the war, says Firat Solakm, who runs a travel agency in Antalya, a popular Mediterranean resort.

They should already be booked for July and August, but there has been hardly any Russian demand, there are no reservations, he tells DW. Western sanctions imposed on Russia largely explain this decline.

Many Russian airlines lease their planes from Western companies. With Western sanctions in place, if any of them landed overseas, they could be seized.

Thefts are the biggest challenge, says Murat Yalcin Yalcinkaya, who heads the Antalya Tourist Guides Association. Customers used to reach Antalya by charter flight, but this is no longer possible; they try to find a solution.

In the past, we received 5,000 to 9,000 guests per day — in May, we expect around 500.

Suspended flights

Turkish companies are therefore looking for ways to attract Russian tourists to the country.

In the past, they simply flew to Turkey with Russian airlines and then returned to Russia after their vacation. Today, the Turkish government is working to have Turkish planes fly foreign guests, says Deniz Ugur, managing director of tour operator Bentour, which specializes in Turkish destinations.

The move aims to support the vital tourism industry, a key pillar of the economy.

In the past, Russia generated income, now Turkey does; this model strengthens Turkey and weakens Russia. Turkey simply attracts guests with purchasing power, and the real income is generated in Turkey itself.

Payment problems?

Besides these logistical problems, there is the problem of Russian credit cards no longer working abroad. Credit card issuers Mastercard and Visa have suspended operations in Russia.

However, Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank, recently announced that cards compatible with the Mir payment system set up by the Central Bank of Russia would be needed by several other countries.

Russian tourists in Turkey pay in cash or with Mir-compatible cards – Mastercard, Visa and others no longer work, confirms Samed Kizgin, Turkey expert and travel security analyst at a firm that advises travel agencies and businesses world.

Hoteliers and restaurateurs have adapted their services to this, he adds.

Fewer Russians and Ukrainians expected

Despite Turkey’s best efforts to attract them, almost 50% fewer Russian tourists visited the country in March compared to the same period last year, according to Kizgin.

Ugur, who has extensive contacts in Turkey, says the tourism industry is currently expecting some 1.5 to 1.7 million Russian visitors, about a third of the 4.7 million who have flocked to Turkey in 2021.

Expectations are even bleaker when it comes to Ukrainian tourists. While some two million visitors in 2021, only 100,000 are expected this year.

Men between the ages of 18 and 60 are currently not allowed to leave Ukraine – so only women, children and the elderly would be able to travel to Turkey.

Whether they would even be willing or able to travel is a whole other question.

Can other tourists make up the shortfall?

Turkey hopes that visitors from other countries, such as Germany, will make up for this lack of Russian and Ukrainian tourists. Torsten Schäfer, spokesperson for the German Travel Association, said they are seeing a marked increase in bookings by Germans this summer.

The eastern Mediterranean region, mainly Turkey and Greece, is becoming increasingly popular with German holidaymakers, according to Schäfer.

Even more, he says, than countries like Spain, which nevertheless remains the favorite holiday destination of the Germans.

But Cumhur Sefer, managing director of COOP TRR, a network of Turkish travel agencies, doubts that other visitors can make up the shortfall.

German vacationers will not fill this gap. To compensate for this, their number should double, he points out.

Ugur projects around 40% more German holidaymakers in Turkey this year, as well as 50% more Britons and some 60% more Polish tourists compared to 2021.

Kizgin says that in March this year, 13% of all tourists arriving in Turkey were from Iran, making it the largest group of visitors for that month.

Yet despite these promising signs, none of the experts believe Turkey can make up for the dramatic drop in the number of Russian and Ukrainian holidaymakers this year.

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Tags: Russian Airlines, Turkey Tourism

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