War and tourism don’t really mix. In the event of war, the desire to travel generally diminishes, especially, of course, in countries engaged in war. Turkey is not involved in the war between Russia and Ukraine, but will feel its impact very clearly on the tourism sector. There are already clear indications of this now, long before the start of the summer season.
Turkey is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the world. Most international tourists come from Russia. Last year, they were around 4.7 million. German holidaymakers are the second largest group, followed by Ukrainians.
Drop in demand and bookings
This year, the Turkish tourism industry is worried about the future. “The hotel sector is hardest hit by the war,” says Firat Solakm, who runs a travel agency in Antalya, a popular Mediterranean resort. “We should already be booked for July and August, but there has been hardly any Russian demand, there are no bookings,” he told DW. Western sanctions imposed on Russia largely explain this decline.
Many Russian airlines lease their planes from Western companies. With Western sanctions in place, if any of them landed overseas, they could be seized. “Thefts are the biggest challenge,” says Murat Yalcin Yalcinkaya, who heads the Antalya Tour Guides Association. “Before, guests used to arrive in Antalya by charter flight, but this is no longer possible. We are trying to find a solution. In the past, we received 5,000 to 9,000 guests per day. In May, we expect around 500 .”
The challenge, therefore, is how to bring Russian tourists into the country. In the past, they simply flew to Turkey with Russian airlines and then returned to Russia after vacation. From now on, everything has to be done in the other direction, explains Deniz Ugur, general manager of the tour operator Bentour, which specializes in Turkish destinations. The Turkish government is trying to arrange for Turkish planes to carry foreign guests. The move aims to support the vital tourism industry, a key pillar of the economy.
Deniz Ugur, General Manager of Bentour
However, it remains to be seen whether such an approach would be counter-productive vis-à-vis Western sanctions, or even strengthen Russia? Deniz Ugur in doubt. On the contrary. “In the past, Russia made income, now it’s Turkey; this model strengthens Turkey and weakens Russia. He says that Turkey simply attracts guests with purchasing power, and the real income is generated in Turkey itself.
Besides these logistical problems, there is the problem of Russian credit cards no longer working abroad. Credit card issuers Mastercard and Visa have suspended operations in Russia. However, Sberbank, the largest bank in Russia, recently announced that cards compatible with the Mir payment system set up by the Central Bank of Russia, would continue to operate in Turkey and several other countries.
Samed Kizginm, travel security analyst at A3M Global Monitoring, a company that advises travel agencies and global corporations
“Russian tourists in Turkey pay in cash or with Mir-compatible cards – Mastercard, Visa and others no longer work,” says Samed Kizgin, Turkey expert and travel security analyst at A3M Global Monitoring, a travel advisory firm . global agencies and companies. “Hoteliers and restaurateurs have adapted their services to this,” he adds.
Fewer Russians and Ukrainians expected
Despite Turkey’s best efforts, almost 50% fewer Russian tourists visited the country in March compared to the same period last year, according to Samed Kizgin. Deniz Ugur de Bentour, who has extensive contacts in Turkey, says the tourism industry is currently expecting between 1.5 and 1.7 million Russian visitors, around a third of the 4.7 million who have flocked to Turkey in 2021. Expectations are even bleaker for Ukrainian tourists. While some 2 million visitors were visited in 2021, only 100,000 are expected this year. Men between the ages of 18 and 60 are currently not allowed to leave Ukraine. Only women, children and the elderly can therefore visit Turkey.
Will other tourists make up the shortfall?
Turkey hopes that visitors from other countries, such as Germany, will make up for this lack of Russian and Ukrainian tourists. “We are seeing a marked increase in bookings by Germans this summer,” says Torsten Schäfer, spokesperson for the German travel association. The eastern Mediterranean region, mainly Turkey and Greece, is becoming increasingly popular with German holidaymakers, according to Schäfer. More so, he says, than countries like Spain, which nevertheless remains Germany’s favorite holiday destination. Cumhur Sefer Managing Director of COOP TRR Int. AG, a network of Turkish travel agencies, however doubts that other visitors can make up for the lack of Russian and Ukrainian tourists. “German holidaymakers will not fill this void, to fill it, their number would have to double,” he says.
Two holidaymakers enjoy their holiday by a swimming pool in Antalya, Turkey
The travel agency Ugur of Bentour predicts around 40% more German holidaymakers in Turkey this year, as well as 50% more Britons and some 60% more Polish tourists compared to 2021. And what about he from other countries? Travel security expert Samed Kizgin said that in March this year, 13% of all tourists arriving in Turkey were from Iran, making it the largest group of visitors that month.
Yet despite these promising signs, none of the experts believe Turkey will be able to cope with the dramatic drop in the number of Russian and Ukrainian holidaymakers this year.
This article was originally written in German.