Uncertainties overshadow optimism for Turkish winter tourism

Hotel owners and executives are concerned about Turkey's upcoming winter tourism season due to the uncertainties posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. “This is something we have never faced before," the general manager of a prestigious hotel in the northern province of Bursa told Duvar English.

K. Murat Yıldız / Duvar English 

Turkey might not be the first country that comes to minds when you think of winter tourism, but over the years it has increasingly become a popular destination for ski enthusiasts. Especially for nearby countries such as Ukraine, Russia, Iran, and the Balkans.

“Despite the pandemic, we have seen extraordinary occupancy rates as of now, and international pre-bookings have reached record levels,” AŞ Dr. Murat Cahid Cıngı, CEO of the Erciyes Tourism Center in city of Kayseri, told Duvar English.

However, Dr. Cıngı added, “We still have some concerns in relation to the pandemic. We fear that if the situation worsens on an international level, travel restrictions could be put in place that will impact said tourism.”

Regarding the current projections for winter tourism, he added, “We currently have a 75-80 percent occupancy rates, according to operator reservations in Erciyes, that will arrive directly via charter flights. In previous years, we received at least 5 flights daily. If the pandemic doesn’t give us any surprises, we will hopefully receive 10 flights daily.”

“Back in 2012 when our company was established, we had between 300 to 350 thousand visitors in a season, but last year we had more than 2 million. Erciyes has turned into a global point of interest for winter sports, especially in Russian, Ukrainian, and Polish markets,” Dr. Cıngı added.

Meanwhile, the Turkish Hotel Association (TÜROB) announced that countrywide, hotels are still operating at occupancy rates between 25 and 30 percent during the winter season.

“We had different projections for winter tourism this year,” Firuz Bağlıkaya, President of the Association of Turkish Tourism Agencies (TURSAB), told Duvar English.

Regarding why their numbers changed, he added, “Our numbers for hotspots like Erciyes assumed that countries like Russia would allow direct flights to those destinations, but that has not happened yet. Therefore, I think those estimations will not materialize.”

“We are working on the restrictions imposed on skiers due to lockdown and curfew restrictions. When you leave your hotel to go ski, you are subject to the same rules as a person who leaves their house to walk on the street. Those things should not be subject to the same rules. If this continues reservations and occupancy rates will drop,” Bağlıkaya added.

Bağlıkaya thinks that the government must change the rules so that all ski resort visitors are exempt from these kind of restrictions. He says that they have been somewhat successful thus far in getting exemptions for specific individuals, saying, “We applied for this and hope to get a similar result not only for foreign but also domestic tourists.”

Hotel owners and executives are also concerned about this upcoming season. Cahit İlman, General Manager of the prestigious Grand Yazıcı Resort in Turkey’s most popular ski destination Uludağ in Bursa, is one of them.

“First of all, there is not enough snow at the moment. Snowfall has recently started and we don’t know how long it will last. Above all there is the weekend curfews and recent 4-day lockdown for the New Year holiday period. We cannot predict what will happen, but we are still preparing for our season to open on the 25th,” İlman told Duvar English.

“This is something we have never faced before, so we cannot make any predictions. We can only wait and see,” he added.

As far as why these concerns differ from those businesses that rely on Summer tourism, İlman said, “Unlike summer tourism, we are in a closed environment. They have open areas and beaches where guests can easily follow social distance rules. It is different in winter hotels. In addition, there is a weekend curfew, so guests can’t leave the hotel to ski. We don’t know what will happen. We are waiting. There is nothing else we can do.”

İlman concluded with his hopes for the future, saying, “We are hoping that some sort of exception, especially for the use of ski runs during curfew and lockdowns, will be introduced by the authorities. We have applied for it, but unfortunately, there has been no response as of now.”