TRAVEL GAZETTE – Turkey’s tourism industry battered as the number of foreign visitors continues to decline on terror fears and troubled ties with neighbors.
The number of foreign arrivals to Turkey fell by 10.3 percent in February compared to the same period last year, according to Turkish government’s latest data.
The decline represents seventh consecutive monthly drop in the number of foreign travelers visiting Turkey and marked the biggest decline since October 2006.
Turkish Tourism and Culture Minister Mahir Unal has downplayed the decline in his parliament speech, saying that he believes the tourism will rebound by the end of April with a surge on reservations.
“The reservations for this year have been slow as people are cautious,” he lamented.
Regional political turmoil, especially the spillover from Syrian conflict, domestic security concerns and troubles with Moscow over downing of Russian jet on Turkish Syrian border have taken a toll on Turkey’s troubled tourism and hospitality industries.
Tourism is a major contributor to Turkish economy, having generated 31.5 billion U.S. dollars in 2015. The number of foreign visitors totaled 36.2 million in 2015, down 1.6 percent from the previous year.
A total of 1.2 million foreign visitors came to Turkey in February 2016. The decline from travelers from two countries that sent most tourists last year, namely Germany and Russia, was recorded as 9.5 percent and 51.6 percent respectively.
The destination that hit most by the decline in tourism is the Mediterranean resort city Antalya where 11.3 million visited last year.
Union of Mediterranean Hotel Owners (Aktob) President Yusuf Hacisuleyman said the industry will likely see a drop of further 4 to 4.5 million visitors in 2016, costing the economy at least 10 billion U.S. dollars losses.
“Germany and Russia comprised of some 55 percent of tourism in Antalya,” he said, stressing the terror threat and negative perception of Turkey especially in Western European market has contributed to the decline.
Yasar Dongel, a board member of ICF Airport that operates Antalya airport, said the number of foreign arrivals has dropped 15 to 24 percent across the board for all countries with the exception of Israel.
On Monday, the Hoteliers Association of Turkey (Turob) announced occupancy rates in hotels in major destination places, indicating troubling signs for the month of February.
The occupancy rate in Istanbul’s hotels has dropped by 21.4 percent, declining to 47.5 percent compared to the same month last year. The occupancy rate in Ankara, Turkish capital, went down by 12.3 percent.
The occupancy rate in Antalya region was recorded as 48.1 percent for February.
The Turob’s report announced on Monday made it clear that Turkey is expected to suffer losses in the number of European tourists this year, warning that many reservations were already cancelled over security concerns.
The tumble on planned reservations was mainly due to the terror attack by suspected Islamic State (IS) militants in Istanbul that killed four foreign tourists including three Israelis on March 19.
In January, a suspected IS suicide bomber killed 11 German tourists in an attack on Istanbul’s historic old city Sultanahmet Square.
Turkey has also witnessed several bombing attacks in its capital and other cities by the IS as well as the outlawed Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) that wages a separatist war against the Turkish government.
According to Tourism data bank, a Turkish research portal, the terror attacks and crisis with Russia has negatively impacted tourism industry in Turkey.
It has estimated that Turkey may incur losses as much as 7.5 billion U.S. dollars in tourism revenue and see a drop of some 6.5 million tourists in 2016.
The decline in the number of Russian travelers in Turkey is set to continue further since relations between Moscow and Ankara have soured as Turkey downed a Russian tactical bomber jet on Turkish-Syrian border last year. Some 4.5 million Russians visited Turkey in 2015.
The number of tourists from Iraq, another neighbor of Turkey that has problems over the deployment of Turkish troops on the Iraqi territory, also declined in February by 24.4 percent.
Yaman Toruner, Turkish analyst, believed the decline in tourism may shave off as much as one percent from the economic growth, slowing it from the target rate of 4 to 4.5 percent to 3 to 3.5 percent.
He also said the decline in tourism revenue will result in job losses of some 140,000 on a monthly basis.
According to Toruner, the decline in the number of Russian tourist is expected to be around 70 percent, followed by some 30 percent in other countries in general.
In the meantime, the Turkish government issued an official circular on Tuesday, revealing details of incentive package of 6,000 U.S. dollars per flight for travel agencies that bring at least 100 people to vacation spots in April and May.