By Gurur Altun
Since the downing of a Russian fighter jet last year, the Russian-reliant Turkish tourism sector has been faced with serious and valid concerns over its 2016 performance.
With consecutive bombings in Istanbul, Ankara and most recently, Bursa adding fuel to the fire, more and more embassies have started warning their citizens who are planning to visit Turkey on possible security threats, especially in popular tourist areas.
On April 28th, the Turkish tourism statistics were released and the extent of this crisis was made public. According to Ministry of Culture and Tourism data, the number of tourists visiting Turkey has declined by 12.8% over the course of the year since March 2015, with a drop of 10.6% in the first quarter of 2016 compared to the same period in 2015.
The number of Russian tourists decreased 59% over the course of the year, with a drop of 56% for the first quarter of the year.
The region suffering most from the negative effects of tourism decline is Antalya, which received 21% fewer visitors in the first quarter this year, as well as a catastrophic 79% decrease in Russian tourists.
In terms of revenue, Turkey’s tourism income decreased by 16.5% in the first quarter compared to the same period last year which totalled as a $4.7 billion loss.
The World Bank, which has just lowered its 2016 economic growth forecast for Turkey to 3.5%, said that the decrease in tourism income for Turkey will continue.
The number of debt defaults in Turkey has also increased significantly and the summer season may be the last hope for the tourism sector. There are reports of resorts and hotels changing hands and fire sales may continue into the late summer or early autumn.
Despite intentions to normalize ties with Russia which Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş has identified as a goal, even this may not be sufficient to alter the image of Turkey overnight from being a region prone to terror threats to an attractive tourist destination.
Moreover, the Turkish government is highly motivated to secure visa free travel to Europe for Turkish citizens and seems confident that this goal will be achieved. However, this prospect will likely have one significant drawback.
The Turkish tourism sector is already struggling and with no immediate solution readily available, local tourism may be the only factor that can save the day. However, the temptation for Turkish locals to plan a cheaper and higher quality holiday in Greece or Spain rather than Turkey may become the next obstacle for the Turkish tourism sector. Naturally, the access to visa free travel represents a major political success however the timing of this achievement may not be economically optimal.