Turkey is set to host twice as many tourists in 2021 compared to last year when the coronavirus pandemic’s effect was more visible, a senior tourism official said Wednesday.
The country expects to host 34 million foreign visitors this year, Deputy Culture and Tourism Minister Nadir Alpaslan told Anadolu Agency (AA).
The number of foreigners visiting the country fell 71.7% year-on-year throughout 2020 and exceeded 12.7 million, according to official data.
Turkey has been implementing strict safety and hygiene measures under the safe tourism certification program, which the government introduced earlier last year.
The program, according to Alpaslan, gave the country an edge over southern European countries.
The country has now also prioritized those working in the industry in its national vaccination program, an encouraging development that sector representatives say would place the country a step ahead of its competitors.
The process will give priority to those working at facilities with safe tourism certificates, agency workers, tour guides and drivers.
Turkey’s tourism sector had a remarkable year in 2019, welcoming 52 million tourists and earning around $35 billion (TL 262.09 billion), Alpaslan said.
Though revenues were expected to reach $40 billion last year, Alpaslan said, the pandemic led to a significant drop in tourist numbers.
The pandemic slashed tourism revenues by two-thirds, reflecting the heavy toll from rolling global travel restrictions, stay-at-home orders and the closures of restaurants and hotels that peaked in the second quarter of 2020.
The sector’s revenues last year dropped 65.1% year-on-year to $12.06 billion. Alpaslan said the figure is expected to reach around $23 billion this year.
Tourist arrivals dropped nearly 72% in January, with some 509,787 tourists visiting the country, as the outbreak continued to take its toll.
Alpaslan noted that while the pandemic’s effects continue in 2021, all the necessary measures have been taken in Turkey to ensure foreign visitors’ safety.
Meanwhile, early bookings from Russia, an important market for Turkey, and interest from Europe and the U.K., another of the top countries for sending tourists to Turkey, have already boosted expectations, according to previous statements by sector representatives.