Published on : Saturday, January 5, 2019
Tourists have flocked in droves to Turkey as a result of the sharp fall in the value of the Turkish lira following economic uncertainty and a rift with the US.
A British firm, for example, managed to book 200 people — up from 15 last year — for a swim between Turkey’s European and Asian shores. And many Turks have travelled to hometowns and resorts this week, an Islamic holiday.
Turkey’s plunging currency and the dispute with the United States have, for sure, fed fears of economic hardship. The tourism sector, though, battered by mass casualties in bombings and an attempted coup in 2016, is again a bright spot — and source of vital foreign currency — for the troubled economy.
Nearly 19 million people — 16 million of them foreigners and the rest Turks living abroad — visited Turkey in the first six months of this year, a 29 percent increase over the same period in 2017, according to the government. Tourism revenue rose by a similar percentage to more than $11 billion.
This week, Turkey’s culture and tourism minister tweeted photos of his visit to coastal Antalya.
“We had the chance to chat with foreign visitors who have chosen our heavenly country,” said the minister, Mehmet Nuri Ersoy.
A calmer security backdrop is enticing the tourists back and it’s a boon for Turkey.
Even if Turks are unnerved by their currency crisis, many bookings were paid long ago, when the lira was stronger. Some chose to take a local holiday rather than spend more abroad.
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, says the economy is under attack, a reference to U.S. economic penalties, including tariffs, imposed during a dispute over an American pastor facing terror-related charges in Turkey. Many economists attribute Turkey’s problems to excessive reliance on loans for fast growth, and say interest rates should be increased to get inflation under control.
The Turkish government has introduced charter flight subsidies and credit guarantee funds to help tourism, and is starting to tap into the Chinese market. Mideast residents are also visiting; some rushed to luxury goods stores for bargains after the lira freefall this month.
The biggest number of foreigners have come from Russia, reflecting better ties since Turkey shot down a Russian military aircraft near the Turkish-Syrian border in 2015. Germans are also arriving in bigger numbers after tension over human rights in Turkey, where Erdogan has amassed more power as president.
Turkey’s tourism sector would be wise not to get too complacent though.