Ever since the advent of budget airlines many decades ago, travel has become more commonplace among the public. Now, one thing is certain, you, me and the rest of the world will employ the utmost scrutiny in the post-COVID-19 era before packing our bags and parting with our hard-earned cash.
Memories of recent dramatic developments are all too fresh as are the "what ifs" in our minds. These lines are written with all due modesty and respect, but some coronavirus responses came across as being over the top.
Leading us to wonder: If worst comes to worst, would airline tickets be refunded should a government, here or there, all of a sudden declare another, previously categorically ruled out, six-month lockdown?
Or what if authorities require a 10-day quarantine at airport hotels upon attempted entry into their territories. In the current scenario, those made to stay at the hotels are billed up to $2,400 per person, a shocking real quote coming from northwestern Europe. There are too many "ifs" for sure.
Then what about canceling hotel reservations reserved by credit card? Likely the holding deposit or, perhaps, even the entire amount for our intended vacation, will be irreversibly debited.
To make matters even more troubling – will we be allowed to leave our home countries and travel to foreign sunlit shores in the first place? Or, what if all international travel is declared "illegal" in the spur of the moment as was the case in some parts of the world?
So, in a globetrotting nutshell: We will have to go where we are sure our airline operators will actually take us while also taking into consideration how welcome we will feel at our destination once the wheels touch down.
And there is most certainly a light at the end of the "what if" tunnel: It seems one particular global tourism magnet has made the preparations to get global vacationing up and running again – Turkey.
Turkey without question has emerged as one of the top nations that did not overreact (see comments above) to the outbreak. It took COVID-19 for what it was, nothing more, nothing less – a serious virus that particularly threatens the elderly but not something that puts the other 90% of the population at risk. Turkey successfully employed a measured approach that included a speedy vaccination program.
It is no wonder that as pen is put to paper for this article those in Turkey's seaside regions are enjoying their cafes, bars and restaurants that have reopened, at least for extended daytime business.
If we compare the situation in Turkey with that of many other (perhaps soon to be "former") global tourist hot spots, Turkey has made the right headlines both at home and overseas through the way it has promoted the sector.
But there are three frank and tough questions analysts cannot neglect.
First, are tourists already considering Turkey as their choice post-COVID-19 holiday destination?
Second, what is still missing on location to make that happen?
And third, what should travelers do to minimize the risk of catching the virus and becoming a threat to others themselves?
Despite COVID-19, Turkey saw a modest but nevertheless promising summer season in 2020 with 12.7 million foreign arrivals. However, it was certainly a serious drop, 71%, since 2019, on which more detailed analysis can be found here.
One can assume that the tourists that had already decided Turkey was the place to be would return and in fact, it had been estimated that on top of the repeat visitors there had been a further 10% rise of first-time visitors, hence the magical phrase "50 million incoming tourists" that made its rounds in government and industry circles in late 2019.
Today in light of COVID-19 and its aftermath, one hears guesstimates of an increase of 150% compared to 2020, thus bringing the expected total number to somewhere in the 30 million region.
As long as there are no new unexpected overseas travel bans this is an absolutely realistic figure.
However, if we factor in millions of potential travelers who perhaps would have gone elsewhere but are impressed by Turkey’s track record dealing with the pandemic paired with the nation's leisure sector's outstanding world-class reputation, one might actually expect that the "3" in front of the "0" could easily become a "4" or perhaps even a "5." So for clarity's sake, Turkey could very well see a total of anywhere between 30 million to 50 million international visitors in 2021.
Last year at the height of the first wave of confusion of how to deal with the novel virus, Turkey had already started not only to disinfect entire towns and city neighborhoods (unheard of in most other countries) but to certify its hospitality sector businesses and train their staff and managers.
Enhanced personal and public hygiene became the anthem and still is. Looking ahead to 2021 spring and summer observers on the ground can attest that hotels, restaurants and other hospitality enterprises are fully prepared to welcome a steady flow of guests.
Hotel rooms undergo a complete and thorough cleaning and all the little free items we enjoyed so much but won't actually use have been removed, including the envelopes with hotel names printed on them as if we still use the good old post office to send stamped letters as proud souvenirs to loved ones left back home; miniature size toothbrushes that break into two halves after one usage and the pamphlets showcasing the hotel amenities that often resemble a telephone directory.
Social distancing will be meticulously monitored wherever required and contactless payments shall be encouraged. It is a country where every small village has at least one ATM and paying by card has all but become the default system anyway, ticking off the list those aspects of travel safety.
The third question: It is expected that by the time the summer season begins – and in Turkey's case hopefully already as it is in early spring – many tourism destinations will have waived the requirement for a PCR test.
For example, Turkey recently announced that inbound travelers from the Republic of Ireland would benefit from such a solution as of late May, but travel industry representatives are bound to lobby the government in Ankara to move the date to mid-April, at least for the major coastal regions.
It is not that tourists are unwilling to get tested – the costs are exorbitant and range from around $112 to $349 per pop in many countries.
Since you must show a negative result obtained within 72 hours before departing, many will resort to getting tested near or at the airport where it will be more expensive.
As long as general infection rates remain low then holidaying without the need for a PCR test should be the standard once again, not the exception. It was deemed safe to reopen the skies, at least for countries not on a "Red Notice" list, with mandatory mask-wearing. Otherwise, a family of four will likely shy from traveling abroad this year.
So the ball is strictly in our court this time. We, the traveling public, can best be compared to customers at a high street bank branch obtaining a huge advance credit not just of money but much more importantly, of trust.
It comes down to the individual traveler to adhere to the strictest hygiene and distancing measures possible and not fall back into "one hand-wash per day" mode.
As long as we accept responsibility for our personal hygiene and personal behavior toward fellow travelers then the nations that host us in 2021 may indeed see a return to a more normal holiday season.
Many regions of the world will vie for a large share of the global incoming tourism market as it gears up again, and so does Turkey. But some destinations appear to have taken the pandemic into their stride better than others, having come up with better post-pandemic solutions. Turkey is most definitely ready for another bumper season, and it may just well come out on top.
*Political analyst, journalist based in London
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