Facing the prospect of a second summer in the doldrums due to international travel restrictions, Turkey's crucial tourism industry received a late boost with the announcement that its biggest market, Russia, is set to resume flights.
In a long-awaited move, Moscow on Friday announced it would resume flights to Turkey starting from Tuesday, thanks to a series of preventative COVID-19 measures enforced in the country.
The decision was made amid a visit by a delegation of Russian experts, who arrived last week to assess safety measures at airports and accommodation facilities.
Culture and Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy dubbed the move “an indication of the trust in our country for safe tourism.”
“I hope that we will reap the fruits of our diplomatic traffic with Russia and other countries in the upcoming period,” Ersoy said on Twitter.
The move is expected to prompt a wave of Russian holidaymakers descending on Turkish resort towns.
Industry representatives say they expect at least 1 million Russian tourists to arrive throughout the year, still down from around 2.1 million last year and 6 million in the year before the pandemic.
Russians accounted for 20% of all foreign visitors in April, when Turkey welcomed 790,687 tourists.
They also topped the list of visitors by nations from January through April with 552,048. Some 2.7 million foreigners arrived in the four-month period, down 35.6% from a year ago.
Turkey has spearheaded safe tourism campaigns and a special certification to ensure that tourists and locals alike are safe at the airports and accommodation facilities.
Orhan Sancar, a Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) coordinator at Russian Pegas Touristik, said the first flight from Russia would take off at 2 a.m. Tuesday.
“On that day, Pegas will operate 45 flights, including five in Istanbul and 40 in Antalya. Along with other tour operators, about 200 planes will land in Antalya in one day,” Sancar told Turkish language Sabah daily.
The steep fall in daily COVID-19 cases and the recent sharp acceleration in vaccinations against the virus have also added to the hopes for this year’s summer season.
Turkey administered more than 1 million vaccines a day last week. The daily cases have dropped significantly to below 6,000 – down from a record high of above 60,000 in April.
Molton Hotels Chairperson Ibrahim Halil Korkmaz said the recent record pace of the inoculation drive has been yielding results.
“We have a daily vaccination count approaching 1.5 million. The Health Ministry is conducting very devoted work. This opened Russia’s door to us,” Korkmaz said.
“In the same way, we believe that good news will come from Europe,” he noted.
“We have said from the beginning that the movement in tourism depends on the decline in the number of cases and an increase in vaccination,” said Turkey Hoteliers Federation (TÜROFED) Chairperson Sururi Çorabatır.
“We have now started to catch this,” Çorabatır noted. “The first good news came from Russia. We now also expect good news from Europe.”
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Saturday also stressed the success of the mass inoculation campaign, expressing hopes the country would achieve higher figures in the tourism sector this year.
“Our country has gradually started to come off the lists of travel restrictions. We welcome the decision taken by Russia, after France, in this direction,” he said.
France last week removed Turkey from the red list of countries on which it had imposed travel restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic.
It also ditched the mandatory 10-day quarantine process for passengers traveling from Turkey to France.
Another important market, Germany earlier this month removed Turkey from its list of high-risk countries.
Berlin Thursday said it would allow travelers from non-European Union countries who are fully vaccinated to enter the country from June 25, which covers Turkish citizens who have received both doses of the BioNTech vaccine.
Germans are booking holidays again at rates higher than in 2019, with demand especially strong for Spain’s Balearic and the Canary Islands, as well as Turkey and Greece, TUI Group, the world’s biggest holiday group, said last week.
“We will be able to ensure that our tourism professionals seize this opportunity at least in the second half of the 2021 season,” Erdoğan said.
The number of foreign visitors fell 71.7% year-on-year throughout 2020 and exceeded 12.7 million, according to official data.
The sector’s revenues dropped 65.1% year-on-year to $12.06 billion (TL 101.14 billion).
“Our main goal is to recapture the number of 52 million tourists in 2019 as soon as possible and then reach 70 million,” the president said.
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