The tourism sector in Turkey fights against the consequences of the war in Ukraine

Last year, the majority of foreign tourists in Turkey came from Russia, Germany and Ukraine. Two of those countries are at war. What does that mean for the Turkish tourism industry?

War and tourism do not go hand in hand. When there is war, the desire to travel tends to decrease, especially in the countries involved in it. Although Turkey is not involved in the war between Russia and Ukraine, it will feel the effects very clearly in its tourism industry. There are already clear signs of this, long before the summer season.

Turkey is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the world. The majority of international tourists come from Russia. Last year there were about 4.7 million. Germany ranks second, with about three million tourists. And in third place is Ukraine: about two million Ukrainians went on vacation to Turkey last year. Are Russian and Ukrainian tourists staying away this year?

Concerns in the Turkish tourism sector are great. “The hotel industry has been particularly hard hit by the war,” Firat Solak, owner of a travel agency in the tourist hub of Antalya, tells DW. “Normally, in July and August we should already be fully booked. But there are no inquiries from Russia, no reservations.” This mainly has to do with Western sanctions against Russia. Many Russian airlines have leased their planes to Western companies.

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If such a plane lands abroad, it could be confiscated. “The biggest problem is the flights,” says Murat Yalcin Yalcinkaya, director of the Antalya Tour Guides Association, in an interview with DW, explaining: “Tourists used to come to Antalya on charter planes, but that is no longer possible. Work is being done to solve this problem. Before there were between 5,000 and 9,000 tourists a day, but now only about 500 a day are expected in May.”

The question now is how to get Russian tourists to travel to Turkey. In the past, they simply flew to Turkey with Russian airlines, and then returned to Russia after their vacation. Now it could be the other way around, Deniz Ugur, CEO of tour operator Bentour, which specializes in trips to Turkey, tells DW. The Turkish government is now trying to use Turkish planes to bring Russian tourists to the country and bring them back after their vacations. In this way, Turkey wants to protect the important economic sector of tourism, says Ugur.

But, given the current situation of the war in Ukraine, one wonders if that is counterproductive in terms of Western sanctions, and perhaps even strengthens Russia. Deniz Ugur does not see it that way, on the contrary: “Before, the turnover was Russian; now it is Turkish. The model strengthens Turkey and weakens Russia.” Turkey imports purchasing power. The added value is then produced in the country itself, highlights

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Despite all efforts, there were nearly 50 percent fewer tourists from Russia in March than a year earlier, says Samed Kizgin, a travel safety expert at A3M Global Monitoring, which assesses travel safety to selected destinations. areas for tour operators and companies with international activity. Bentour CEO Deniz Ugur, who has good contacts in Turkey, explains that between 1.5 and 1.7 million Russian tourists are currently expected to arrive in Turkey. That would be just a third of the previous year’s 4.7 million. The number of Ukrainian tourists is expected to drop sharply: from nearly two million last year to just 100,000 this year.

Will tourists from other countries be able to compensate for the decrease in Russian and Ukrainian tourists? Perhaps visitors from Germany? “We have a significant increase in bookings for Turkey this summer,” says Torsten Schäfer, press spokesman for the German Travel Association. The eastern Mediterranean, that is, especially Turkey and Greece, would grow much more strongly than the western one, with Spain the most popular holiday destination among Germans. Cumhur Sefer, CEO of the Turkish travel agency cooperation COOP TRR Int. AG, does not believe that the decline in Russian and Ukrainian tourists can be compensated for. “German vacationers cannot fill the gap left by Russian tourists. For Germans to fill the gap, the numbers would have to double. That will not be the case.”

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Deniz Ugur expects a 40 percent increase in German tourists, 50 percent British and 60 percent Poles in Turkey. But perhaps there are also more tourists from other countries. Travel security specialist Samed Kizgin points out that, in March 2022, the majority of tourists, that is, about 13 percent, came from Iran, which previously ranked fifth on the list. Despite the increase in visitors from other countries and all the efforts, none of the experts believe that Turkey can compensate for the decrease in Russian and Ukrainian tourists. A big problem for the Turkish tourism industry, but a small one compared to the problems of the two countries at war.

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