Turkey hopes for ‘air bridge’ for British tourists

Turkish Transport and Infrastructure Minister Adil Karaismailoğlu said the country’s plans to gradually restart flights with 40 countries in June as the holiday season gets into full swing.

Diplomatic efforts continue with a total of 92 countries, the minister said. Among the countries that Turkey has already reached an agreement with is Italy, the first epicentre of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic in Europe.

Turkey is also close to an air bridge agreement with Britain, and flights could start as early as July 15, the Financial Times cited an unnamed Turkish government official as saying. The official said the final decision would depend on the trajectory of infection rates in Britain.

Britain is putting in place new controls, and anybody arriving in the country will be quarantined for 14 days, including those returning from holidays. However, the country is also exploring options “with countries that have low rates of infection - but only when the evidence shows that it is safe to do so,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last week.

Some 2.6 million British tourists visited Turkey last year, according to the FT. Both countries have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, but Turkey has been relatively quicker to recover according to official data provided by its health ministry.

On June 7, Britain reported 77 deaths due to COVID-19 and 1,326 new diagnoses. On the same day, there were 23 deaths and 914 new cases in Turkey.

“We believe that an important threshold has been crossed in the fight [against the coronavirus pandemic] in the whole world,” Karaismailoğlu said. “Now we must continue with our global connections and trade. We say ‘bismillah’ once again, and we set out.”

The Turkish Transport Ministry has issued safe travel certificates to 53 airports in Turkey, and implemented hygiene and social distancing measures before opening them up for domestic travel on June 5.

Tourism revenue is critical for the rejuvenation of Turkey’s economy, which was only just

starting to recover from a currency crisis in 2018 before the coronavirus pandemic took hold globally by February. The country also needs hard cash to fund a deficit in its current account - any shortfall there could threaten recent gains for the lira, which has risen from a record low hit early last month.

The country’s income from tourism surged 17 percent to a record $34.5 billion in 2019, but revenue dropped by an annual 11 percent to $4.1 billion in the first quarter of this year.