Turkey’s ‘safe tourism’ plan struggles to attract Brits

Turkish hotels had hoped that a "safe tourism" certification programme would attract visitors in the latest stage of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, but tourists are mostly staying away from resorts that would usually be packed, the Times reported on Sunday. 

Turkey has been desperate to kickstart its vital tourism industry by attracting visitors; particularly British tourists, who are renowned in the Turkish hospitality industry for their high spending habits - particularly on alcohol, the Times said. 

More than 2.5 million Brits visited Turkey last year. The average tourist holidaying in Turkey spends $666, and tourism brought in more than $35 billion in revenue last year, according to the Turkish Statistical Institute.

Turkey has promised to protect tourists from the coronavirus. Hotels with more than 50 rooms must be certified under a “safe tourism” initiative, and follow 132 safety regulations, mostly on hygiene, social distancing and displaying information about the virus.

The plan landed Turkey on the British government’s list of “low-risk” destinations that can be visited by British tourists. Dominick Chilcott, the British ambassador to Turkey, said earlier this month that he was “impressed to see how strictly the measures were being applied at the airports and hotels to ensure the safety of tourists".

The Times visited a five-star hotel on Turkey’s southwestern coast certified under the “safe tourism” plan, and observed that, despite efforts by the staff, many of the 132 requirements were not being enforced.

Few tourists wore masks, and social distancing at the bar and restaurant was impossible, even though the hotel was only 30 percent full, mainly with Russian and Turkish tourists.

The Times also said the COVID-19 protections at airports were problematic. 

Turkish officials say that thermal imaging cameras at airports take the temperature of arriving passengers, and submit them to tests if they register more than 37.8 C.

But the Times reported that a testing centre at Istanbul airport - which claims to give test results in two hours - was a chaotic, six-hour experience that would have been very difficult for a non-Turkish speaker to navigate.

On Turkey’s southwestern coast, hotel owners and restaurateurs told the Times they are far more concerned with the economic impact of COVID-19 than the health risks

“We haven’t had a single tourist here for weeks,” Halil Halipci, the owner of the Red Castle pub in Belek, a resort near Antalya popular with British, Russian and German tourists, told the Times. “Usually we’d have about 150 customers a day, but there’s just no one.”

Halipci, who has run the bar for 10 years, said this was a worse time for business than when Turkey was experiencing a series of terrorist attacks a few years ago. 

“Now there is literally no one,” he said. “If this carries on we’ll have to close down the business.”