ANKARA: Hopes for a recovery of tourism in Turkey after the COVID-19 pandemic have been dashed following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Millions of Russians and Ukrainians fly south to vacation in Turkey every year, but numbers are expected to be much lower this year, leading to forecasts of a 30% decline in the industry.
As tourist season approaches, southern resorts are already feeling the effects of the invasion and subsequent sanctions against Russia, with cancellations exceeding 70%.
Last year, in a country where tourism accounted for 10% of gross domestic product just before the pandemic, some 4.7 million Russians and 2.1 million Ukrainians visited Turkey, representing nearly a quarter of the total 24.7 million foreign tourists arriving throughout the year.
The Association of Turkish Travel Agencies expected 7 million Russians and 2.5 million Ukrainians to arrive this year, but expectations are now much lower.
For southern Turkish resorts, the high season for Russian tourists normally begins in early May.
Many Ukrainian and Russian tourists who travel for cultural and historical trips to Istanbul in winter have also canceled their trips this year.
The main opposition Republican People’s Party recently released a report claiming that the lack of Russian and Ukrainian tourists could cost Turkey’s tourism sector around $5 billion.
“If the conflict in Ukraine continues after March or April, I don’t expect Russian and Ukrainian holidaymakers to come this summer. It’s completely related to the psychology of war. You cannot spend a summer vacation abroad if your parents are fighting for your country or if you have lost a relative on the battlefield,” said Bulut Bagci, President of the World Forum Institute. tourism, to Arab News.
Tourists from Russia and Ukraine generally head to resorts on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, such as Alanya and Antalya, as well as tourist hotspots like Cappadocia in central Turkey, where charter flights from of Ukraine were launched two years ago.
If the situation in Ukraine deescalates, it is still likely that Russian tourists, for the most part, will make reservations in Turkey, but problems could also arise due to the heavy financial and payment sanctions imposed on Russia.
Following the exclusion of the seven main Russian banks from the SWIFT system, Visa and Mastercard blocked the use of Russian credit cards abroad.
Experts said the end of SWIFT transfers for Russian citizens has already led to cancellations in Turkey.
“We can compensate for some of the losses if we are able to mobilize domestic tourists. However, we should have already taken steps to grow and diversify into different markets rather than being dependent on certain countries,” Bagci said.
Goksel Gungor, co-founder of YTM Tourism Villa Aparts in Fethiye, the Mediterranean resort, warned that domestic tourists could not compensate for the loss of Russian and Ukrainian visitors.
“This is the first time that I have filled only 12% of hotel reservations for the summer. Even during strained relations with Russia, we managed to bridge the gap with the arrival of Ukrainian tourists. Now, that is no longer the case. We cannot expect people who are fighting for their country to plan their summer vacations,” he told Arab News.
After a Russian fighter jet was shot down by Turkish F-16s along the Turkey-Syria border in 2015, the country’s tourism industry was also hit hard after Russia banned flights tourist charter to Turkey in retaliation.
The war in Ukraine could also influence the holiday preferences of British tourists.
“Several tourists from the UK have yet to cancel their reservations. But they still haven’t confirmed their reservations. Everyone is making their summer plans depending on the course of events on the battlefield,” said Gungor said.
Industry representatives have also warned that tourists will avoid choosing destinations close to Ukraine for fear of being near a war zone.
And some Turkish hoteliers believe that the growing use of cryptocurrency by Russian holidaymakers will be “unsuited” to the financial needs of the tourism sector.
“Turkey still does not have a legal framework for cryptocurrency payments, so Russian tourists using cryptocurrency would not change our lives,” Gungor said.
The status and frequency of flights from Russia to Turkey, after Airbus and Boeing signed on to Western sanctions, is also causing headaches for industry professionals.