Turkey pins tourism hopes on full lockdown, operators pessimistic

Turkey has pinned its hopes on a full lockdown to curb COVID-19 infections and allow the return of foreign tourists, but local operators remain pessimistic, Deutsche Welle reported on Thursday.

Turkey has enacted strict COVID-19 measures after new cases of the diseases reached record highs of more than 60,000 a day earlier this month. Trips outside the home are only permitted for essential reasons and travel between cities requires official permission until May 17.

The country had begun to reopen in March, raising the prospect of a resumption in tourism, a crucial sector of the country’s economy. However, Mehmet Isler, the chairman of the Aegean Touristic Enterprises and Accommodations Association, told DW the new lockdown had dashed hopes of a quick recovery for the sector.

"We were counting on 30 million tourists for this year,” he said. “But then there were party conferences all over the country in March and the number of infections shot up.”

The governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) drew particular criticism last month for holding a congress in Ankara that saw thousands of people pack into exhibition halls with few social distancing measures in place before returning home to destinations across the country.

The meeting coincided with a sharp rise in nationwide COVID-19 infections, which saw a four-fold increase in the following weeks.

“Now there are more restrictions because of COVID-19. All of a sudden, our expectations and goals have vanished," Isler said.

Tourism in Turkey was dealt a significant blow on April 15, when Russian authorities banned travel to the country until June, citing the increased prevalence of COVID-19.

Seven million Russians visited Turkey in 2019, more than any other nationality, according to DW.

Russia has officially denied the travel ban was linked to Turkey’s decision to sell military technology to Ukraine. But Russian politicians have linked the two issues, adding to the uncertainty facing Turkey’s tourism operators.

Kemal Şahin, the head of Şahinler Holding, which owns several hotels in the popular tourist destination of Antalya, told DW that his industry was facing a disaster.

"If the Russian tourists don't come everything will collapse," he said.