War and tourism don’t really go together. When there is a war, the desire to travel usually decreases, above all, of course, in the countries involved in the war. Although Turkey is not involved in the war between Russia and Ukraine, the effects in the tourism sector will be more evident. There are already clear signs of this – well before the summer season.
Turkey is one of the most popular holiday destinations in the world. Most international tourists come from Russia. Last year there were about 4.7 million. Germany ranks second with about three million tourists. It is followed by Ukraine in third place. About two million people from Ukraine vacationed in Turkey last year. Will Russian and Ukrainian tourists at least stay away this year? no!
No inquiries, no reservations
The concerns in the tourism industry are great. “The hotel industry has been particularly affected by the war,” Firat Sulak, the owner of a travel agency in a tourist district in Antalya, told DW. Naturally we are already fully booked in July and August. But no inquiries from Russia, no reservations. This mainly concerns Western sanctions against Russia. Because many Russian airlines leased their planes from Western companies.
If such an aircraft lands abroad, there is a risk of its confiscation. “The biggest problem is the flights,” says Murat Yalcin Yalcinkaya, president of the Tourist Guides Association in Antalya, and explains: “Guests used to come to Antalya on chartered planes, but this is no longer the case. Work is currently underway to solve the problem. This problem. There was. Approximately 5,000 to 9,000 guests per day, but now it is expected that there will be around 500 guests per day only in May.”
Deniz Ugur, Managing Director of Pentor Raisen
“Problem” means: how do Russian tourists enter the country? They used to fly to Turkey with Russian Airlines and back to Russia after the holiday. Now it should be in the opposite direction, explains Deniz Ugur, managing director of the tour company Pintur, which specializes in trips to Turkey. The Turkish government is now trying to use Turkish planes to bring Russian tourists back into the country and bring them back after their vacation. Turkey wants to protect the important economic tourism sector.
The question remains whether this is counterproductive to Western sanctions – and possibly strengthening Russia. Deniz Ogur does not see it this way – on the contrary: “The sales volume was Russian, now it is Turkish. The model strengthens Turkey and weakens Russia.” Turkey imports purchasing power. Then the added value happens in your country, according to Turkey travel specialist Ugur.
Numbers – but how?
In addition to the problem of how to get Russian tourists to Turkey, there is also the question of how to pay on the spot. Credit card providers such as Mastercard and Visa have closed their businesses in Russia. As a result, cards issued in Russia no longer work abroad. However, Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank, announced that cash cards with the “Mir” logo – “Mir” is a payment system of the Russian Central Bank – will continue to operate in Turkey and some other countries.
Travel security expert Samed Kezgin
This is what it looks like. “Russian tourists in Turkey pay either in cash or with ‘Mir’ cards. MasterCard, Visacard, etc. do not work,” says Samid Kizgin. Kizgin is a Turkey expert and travel safety expert for A3M Global Monitoring, which assesses travel safety to certain regions for tour operators and international companies. “Hotel owners and restaurant operators have adapted to this,” he adds.
Still fewer tourists from Russia?
Despite all efforts, the number of tourists from Russia in March came in nearly 50 percent less than the previous year, according to Turkish expert Samid Kızkin. Deniz Ugur, managing director of Bentor, who has good relations in Turkey, explains that 1.5 to 1.7 million Russian tourists are currently planning to go to Turkey. That would be only about a third of the 4.7 million in the previous year. In the case of Ukrainian tourists, a much larger decline is planned – from nearly two million tourists a year earlier to just 100,000 now. Since men between the ages of 18 and 60 are not allowed to leave Ukraine, they are mostly women and children as well as the elderly, who then come from the countries they have fled to.
The goal: to increase the number of tourists from other countries
Will tourists from other countries be able to compensate? Maybe from Germany? “This summer, we have a huge increase in bookings for Turkey,” says Torsten Schaefer, a spokesperson for the German Travel Association. The eastern Mediterranean – especially Turkey and Greece – will grow much faster than the western Mediterranean with Spain, the most popular holiday destination for Germans. Jamhour Sefer, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Turkish travel agency COOP TRR Int. AG, does not believe that the decline in Russian and Ukrainian tourists can be compensated for. “German vacationers cannot fill the void left by Russian tourists. If the Germans were to fill this gap, the numbers would have to double. It wouldn’t be so.”
Such a huge hotel pool without other guests has something: many tourists will probably be pleased with the small number of tourists
Ugur, general manager of Bentor, expects to increase the number of Germans by 40 percent, about 50 percent of Britons, and about 60 percent of Polish tourists in Turkey. But perhaps the tourists come from countries that do not appear directly on the screen. Travel security expert Samed Kezgin notes that in March 2022, most tourists, about 13 percent, came from Iran – previously ranked fifth in the tourist rating. Despite the increase in the number of visitors from other countries and all the efforts made, none of the experts believe that Turkey will be able to absorb the decrease in the number of Russian and Ukrainian tourists. A big problem for the Turkish tourism industry – a small problem compared to the problems in the two war-torn countries.