As the Russian invasion of Ukraine enters its third week, the Turkish tourism sector is bracing for the impact of the conflict. Tourism leaders warn that a decrease in Russian and Ukrainian tourists could drive the sector, already hit hard by the pandemic, even further into debt, reports daily Cumhuriyet.
According to data from the Ministry of Tourism, Russia is Turkey’s top source of tourists, with 4.7 million Russians comprising 19% of the country’s total tourists in 2021. Ukraine comes in third place, with 2.3 million visitors (an 8.3% share) visiting the country last year.
Now, with the Russian economy crippled as NATO and Western allies impose historic sanctions, Russian tourists are unlikely to flock in the same numbers - and with the same desire to spend - as in years past. Further, Ukrainians devastated by war are unlikely to prioritize vacations this summer.
The effects of this crisis will compound the devastation of the covid-19 pandemic, from which the industry has still not fully recovered. According to the President of the Bodrum Professional Hotel Managers Association, Serdar Karcılıoğlu, the tourism sector in Turkey accumulated 8 billion Turkish Lira in debt over the course of the pandemic. While the sector picked up with an increase in travel last year, it still did not fully recover. Now, Karcılıoğlu says the war will prevent things from returning to normal.
“It is already clear that this money will not be paid this year because of the war. The sector will lose its instruments, hotels will be auctioned off,” he said.
He is calling for $10 billion in subsidies to help offset the financial impact of the conflict. Domestic tourists already in the midst of a historic economic crisis will be unable to fill the gap left by Russians and Ukrainians, he said.
“Domestic tourists cannot save the sector this year,” he said.
Korhan Alşan, CEO of Nirvana Hotels, is calling for immediate affordable loans to tourism businesses.
“We do not expect tourists from Ukraine for a long time, there are heavy sanctions against Russia, there is great uncertainty. For this reason, urgent loan support is needed in order for the sector to overcome its debts,” he said.
However, others, such as tourism writer Fehmi Köfteoğlu said this will not be sufficient. He pointed out that during the pandemic 271 hotels were sold because they could not pay their loan debt.
“Currently, credit support is not enough for the sector. No new tourists will come,” he said, “Insurance companies will not insure planes departing from Russia. Even if people wanted to come they would not be able.”