In the tourist resort of Marmaris, nestled between turquoise waters and pine-covered mountains on the southwest coast of Turkey, the Mustafa Deliveli hotel is preparing for a summer that fears it could sink the city’s tourist activity.
Reservations at Deliveli’s Emre Hotel are at 15 percent capacity by June, one of the “most important months” of the season, when its rooms are normally full, he said. But a spring coronavirus source has led Russia, Germany and Britain, Turkey’s three largest tourist markets, to impose onerous travel restrictions – threatening a sector that provides millions of jobs and vital hard currency.
“We’ve had our share of crisis in tourism over the years, but this is unprecedented,” said Deliveli, who laid off a third of his staff and closed half of the hotel to reduce costs. . “We kept our heads above water last year and we had high hopes for this season. It’s been a great disaster.”
A collapse of tourism reverts to the wider economy. Turkey relies on the inflow of foreign currency from visitors to finance its external debt and a current account deficit that stands at 5 percent of gross domestic product, and also to replenish it. forex reserves afraid to prop up a weak currency.
The tourism number has become even more critical since President Recep Tayyip Erdogan fired the central bank governor in March, forcing foreign investors to unload $ 1.8 billion net of Turkish securities and bonds.
In an effort to attract visitors, Erdogan has ordered a national shutdown for most of May to stem the pandemic. Most visitors are now exempted from undergoing PCR testing to detect the virus, and the government’s “safe tourism” program has given priority to vaccinating tourism workers and certified 10,000 hotels and other operators. respecting strict hygiene standards. Every day, Covid-19 homes dropped to about 6,000 from a record 63,000 in April.
With 5,000 miles of coastline and dotted with Greek and Roman ruins, Turkey was the sixth most visited destination in the world before the coronavirus outbreak, attracting 52 million tourists and $ 35 billion in turnover in 2019. As the pandemic decimated global tourism last year, the number of visitors to Turkey and revenues fell by almost 70 percent in 2020 over the previous year.
The tourism minister had targeted 30 million tourists and $ 23 billion in revenue by 2021, but that could already escape out of reach, with a third fewer tourists arriving in the first four months than in the same period. last year.
“The pandemic has caused a massive drought [but] tourism maintains its serious position in Turkey’s balance of payments and provides 2 million jobs, ”Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy told FT.
Tourism, both directly and indirectly, accounted for 13% of GDP before the pandemic. Without a significant payback this year, up to one percentage point could be shaken by economic growth in 2021, said Roger Kelly, economist at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in Istanbul.
Revenue from tourism also reduces Turkey’s trade deficit and supports the lira, which has lost 14 percent of its value this year since Erdogan’s pressure on the central bank to reduce interest rates interest fueled double-digit inflation.
“Turkey’s life would be a lot easier if tourism picks up. If it doesn’t, it means another year of the struggling economy,” Kelly said. “It’s not a magic wand, but it would greatly relieve the pressure on the Turkish economy.”
In Marmaris, nine of the 10 hotels were closed in late May, Deliveli said. Most survived the 2020 crash due to loans or cost reductions, but “now is the time to pay, and if things go as they did last year, many operators will fail or be forced to. to sell, ”he said.
About 2.6 million Britons will travel to Turkey in 2019 and were usually for about half of Deliveli’s guests. He has not made a single booking from Britain this season since the UK government has requested arrival from the country to stay in a quarantine hotel and do a PCR test at his expense. Erdogan said he and Johnson will discuss tourism at a NATO summit next week and also sent Ersoy to Moscow and Berlin to press for an end to his restrictions.
Germany, which sent 5 million tourists to Turkey in 2019, said returnees no longer need to be quarantined if they are vaccinated or are negative. Russia, Turkey’s largest tourist source, has extended the ban on most flights between the two countries until June 21st. “Once air traffic resumes, Turkey will receive a call because guests have not canceled reservations but are postponing them,” Ersoy said.
But Bahattin Yucel, former tourism minister, said it was already too late for this season “to be better than last year, and we need to slow down until the lack of success in coronavirus management.”
A recent afternoon, a handful of tourists roamed the scattered ruins of Perge, a 3,000-year-old archeological site once ruled by Alexander the Great and enriched with magnificent mosaics.
Ali Cikla has walked the ancient roads of Perge “thousands of times” during his four decades as a tour guide. Since the pandemic, it has led only five groups and its income has fallen 90 percent. Yet, it is bloody that the blue mixture of sun, sea and history proves irresistible.
“It may take a few years but people will come back,” he said. “The pandemic won’t last forever, but Perge will.”