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Turkey's tourism sector pins hope on lockdown

Aram Ekin Duran
April 29, 2021

Turkey's tourism industry lost billions in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. By imposing a strict lockdown now, the government is hoping that tourists will be able to flock back for their summer holidays.

An aerial view from a beach in Konyaalti district of Antalya
Turkey is popular with tourists from Russia and Germany, especially the beachesImage: picture-alliance/AA/M. Ciftci

The daily number of new COVID-19 infections in Turkey has fallen from over 60,000 to 43,000 in the past week. But the government is no longer taking any chances. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced a strict "full lockdown" that will remain in force from April 29 until May 17.

Many businesses, restaurants and cafes will be closed, and Turks will only be allowed to leave their homes for essential food shopping trips or for medical reasons. They will have to obtain permission if they want to travel between cities.

But foreign tourists will be exempt from these rules. Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy has said that the country's "most visited and important museums and archaeological sites" would remain open.

"In some ways, being a tourist in Turkey is beneficial," said Ersoy on Tuesday.

The idea is that a strict lockdown now will salvage the season later. Turkey is particularly popular with tourists from Russia and other parts of Europe, including Germany.

The country's economy is already in crisis, and the resorts and hotels on the Mediterranean and Aegean coast cannot afford another year like 2020. Last year, tourist numbers dropped by some 15.9 million people, according to the national statistics agency, and the tourism sector suffered losses of €8.3 billion ($10.1 billion). Revenue fell by 65%, and more than 320,000 people lost their jobs.

Resort owners hope Russians will return

Losses were particularly high in Antalya, an extremely popular tourist destination on the southern coast. Instead of the average 15 million annual visitors, only 3 million tourists showed up.

Kemal Sahin, the head of Sahinler Holding, which owns several hotels in the area, told DW that the first three months of 2021 had not been so bad. But now there was a risk of disaster due to the increased number of infections.

Abandoned beach chairs in Antalya in June 2020.
2020 was a disaster for Turkey's tourism industryImage: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Schmitt

"The revival that everyone was hoping for is not going to happen. Flights from Russia have been canceled until at least June 1," he said. "If the Russian tourists don't come everything will collapse." In 2019, visitors from Russia and Germany made up the bulk of the tourists, at 7 million and 5 million, respectively.

Mehmet Isler, the chairman of the Aegean Touristic Enterprises and Accommodations Association, was also dismayed. "We were counting on 30 million tourists for this year. […] But then there were party conferences all over the country in March and the number of infections shot up. Now there are more restrictions because of COVID-19. All of a sudden, our expectations and goals have vanished."

Tour operators think lockdown should have come sooner

Kemal Sahin said that the problems that both Germany and Russia were facing with their vaccination campaigns have been a blow to this year's tourist season.

"The complications have ruined our plans for the whole year. We hope that tourism is revived in June and there won't be any other setbacks," he told DW.

Climbing mountains to vaccinate

He thinks the decision to impose a full lockdown was right, even if it will bring the entire economy to a standstill, but said it came "too late."

"If we had started earlier, we could start the season earlier," he said.

"We have to take the pandemic measures as seriously as possible now and make it clear to tourists that Turkey is a safe country," said Isler. "Otherwise, we're going to end up well behind our targets for 2021."

This article has been adapted from Turkish and German