Over a million additional tourists are expected to arrive in Turkey after the country decided to exempt citizens from five European Union countries as well as Britain from visa requirements, according to tourism industry representatives.
The Foreign Ministry on Thursday announced visa restrictions will be lifted for citizens from Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the U.K. starting March 2. The new visa-free regime will allow entry for up to 90 days per 180-day period.
Turkey is already a popular destination for these countries, and the exemption is expected to provide additional momentum in the number of tourists arriving in the country.
Approximately 5.7 million tourists from these six countries arrived throughout 2019, out of over 45 million tourists who visited the country. They had been paying a visa fee of around $35.
The overall number of tourists coming from European countries was over 20 million last year. Out of these, some 2.5 million were from the U.K., 1.1 million from the Netherlands, 880,000 from Poland, 557,000 from Belgium, 401,000 from Austria and 257,000 from Spain.
Turkish Hoteliers Federation (TÜROFED) Chairman Sururi Çorabatır said these countries are all important for the sector as the number of tourists coming from many of them has always been high, particularly stressing the high potential of Poland.
Çorabatır highlighted that one of the biggest travel agencies in Poland has already announced a decision to add flights to Turkey as of April.
Prior to the decision, industry representatives had already expected a double-digit increase in the number of tourists from these countries this year, while a surge of over 20% is now being discussed.
"We expect double-digit growth in other markets as well," Çorabatır added.
Turkey's tourism enjoyed another buoyant year in 2019 with more visitors and soaring revenues. Tourism revenues hit $34.5 billion last year, a record high, according to the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat) data. This is a 17% increase compared with the sector's revenue of $29.5 billion in 2018.
The average expenditure per capita stood at $666 in 2019, up from $647 the previous year.
According to the Culture and Tourism Ministry, the number of foreigners visiting the country surged 14.1% on an annual basis, surpassing 45 million last year. In 2018, 39.5 million international visitors came to Turkey.
Having hosted the highest annual number of tourists ever last year, Turkey was the sixth most-visited country in the world, according to the U.N. World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
The country is planning to welcome 58 million foreign visitors and generate $40 billion from tourism activities this year.