A supposed paradox is currently playing out in Turkey. On one hand, objective economic data (unemployment, inflation, credit card debt, insolvencies) have been indicating a worsening economic crisis for months, if not years, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic. This is confirmed by the subjective opinion of most Turks, who complain about their economic situation. On the other hand, during the week of Bayram, touristy places and not only the hotspots, but hopelessly overcrowded. Beaches, swimming pools, restaurants along the coasts, clubs, shopping centers were filled to the brim. The streets of sleepy villages like Sığacık or Çesmealtı (Urla) are as full as those in Şişli or Üsküdar at rush hour.
Small, picturesque Art Street resemble Istiklal Avenue on Saturday evening. And, the visitors are not just idly strolling. The restaurants, snack bars, and ice cream shops are all full, the tables well set, on the Aegean also with plenty of alcohol, which flows in streams starting at 11 o'clock in the morning. If you didn't know the news and data about the economic crisis and didn't talk to locals, you would think that Turkey is in a boom phase and the middle class doesn't know where and how to spend their money.
This paradox is not new and not exclusive to Turkey. Kenan Evren already responded in the 1980s to criticism regarding an economic crisis by saying that one should look at the restaurants along the Bosphorus, which are all full and yet show that the crisis cannot be that bad.
There are at least three reasons why this consumption is not a good indicator of the economic situation:
First, after a year and a half of the pandemic, only recently the last restrictions were lifted, beach cafes and restaurants were able to open, and hotels were able to receive guests without restrictions. People who had been staying mainly in their neighborhood for 1.5 years again had the opportunity to make a change of scenery and combine summer vacations with official bayram vacations.
Secondly, there are still restrictions on travel abroad. Those who do not have a green passport need a visa, which is hard to get for tourist travel. Even those who have a green passport need PCR tests and cannot always be sure if they will be able to travel or if quarantine rules apply in the destination country. The very popular and close foreign destinations, such as the Aegean islands, are still not accessible by boat from mainland Turkey. This increases the number of inland vacationers by a significant number.
Third, Turkey has a population of over 83 million. If only 10 percent are doing well economically, that's almost 10 million people. If half of them decide to go on summer vacation, everything will be full very quickly, since more and more foreign tourists have been coming to the country in recent weeks. The bed capacity in Turkey is about 1.75 million in about 800,000 hotel rooms. Surely many domestic tourists can stay with friends and relatives or have summer houses, but bed capacity is limited.
After a year and a half, people are taking a few days off from the pandemic and economic worries. You do not see those who cannot afford it at all on the coasts and tourist centers. That is the vast majority.
For this majority, for a long time, a good education, good university degrees, foreign language skills, and experience abroad were considered guarantees against unemployment and for higher starting salaries. But that has not been the case for a long time. In its latest issue, the weekly Oksijen portrayed some well-educated young adults who, with knowledge of Japanese and degrees from the best universities, work for the minimum wage or just above it and, if they live in Istanbul, either think about moving to a cheaper provincial city or want to go abroad straight away. Since education and qualifications no longer play a decisive role for many jobs, but rather relationships, contacts and a certain political-religious background, the well-educated, for whom this does not apply, are marginalized in Turkey and thus pushed abroad. It is not so much pull factors that draw them abroad, but push factors. This brain drain will continue for the near to mid-term future. Some of them will find good jobs with decent salaries abroad. They will come in the summer to visit family and friends and spend some days at the beaches, which will also be full in the coming years. But, as of today, that won’t be a good indicator of the overall economic situation.