Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Fewer Russians, More Europeans Flock to Turkiye for Summer Holiday

Turkiye for Summer Holiday
A young man dives from the Galata Bridge into the water of the Bosphorus to cool down, in Istanbul on August 5, 2022. Yasin Akgul / AFP

Dana Hourany

The busy tourism season in the southern city of Alanya, Turkiye, has reached its peak.

Bustling nightlife, savory cuisine, clean beaches, and most importantly cheap shopping, makes the coastal city all the more attractive to tourists.

However, this year saw fewer Russian tourists, once comprising the majority of visitors.

In a statement by the Executive Director of the Association of Tour Operators of Russia, Maya Lomidze to the Turkish Dunya newspaper, an estimated two million Russian tourists would be considered a good figure for 2022 – a sharp decline from the 4.7 million Russians who visited Turkiye in 2021.

Although no official numbers have been released on the number of tourists in Alanya, Khalil Togoz, a tourist guide in the city told Fanack that their numbers have dropped drastically from previous years.

“I’ve been living and working in Alanya since 1997 up until 2005; Europeans once accounted for the majority of tourists,” Togoz said. “From 2005 up until last year, Russians have taken the lead, but the numbers are starting to shift again.”

It is too early to tell if Europeans will dominate the tourist scene again, he said. But the Russian war on Ukraine has played a key role in this transition.

Despite the rebound of the tourism sector following two arduous years of COVID-19 bans and restrictions, analysts and observers note that more governmental efforts are needed to protect the sector from the country’s fluctuating economy and political instability.

Alanya, Antalya, and the southern gems

With lustrous seaside landscapes, antique markets, and historical landmarks, the Mediterranean coast or “Akedniz,” (Turkish for white sea,) harbors attractive destinations for beach lovers.

Marmaris, Kas, Antalya, Fethiye, Lycia, and Alanya, are among the most popular sites.

According to a 2019 analysis by Business Insider that rated the 200 most-visited cities in the world based on real 2019 monthly data, Antalya was placed as the 10th most-visited city in the world.

“Antalya is very popular but in my opinion, Alanya is better,” Togoz said. “It’s smaller in size and has everything that Antalya offers within a shorter distance. Mountains, beaches, malls, markets, and historic landmarks are all within reasonable distances from one another.”

Plus, hotels are cheaper than its more popular contenders, he added.

Visitors from countries of colder climates flock to the Mediterranean coast for its warm weather, and invigorating outdoor activities that include rafting in rivers, swimming in waterfalls, hiking in the mountains, and hopping on a tour on a pirates-themed boat, Togoz noted.

The latter correlates to the pirates of Ottomon period that would defend the empire from maritime enemies.

Pre-Covid and Post-Covid

The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, which halted travel throughout the world, dealt a significant blow to the $34.4 billion tourism revenue in the country, despite an all-time high of 45.1 million visitors in 2019.

The country has since struggled to exceed those levels.

Russians were the primary tourists to Turkiye between January and November last year, mainly to Antalya. Analysts are concerned about probable revenue losses owing to airspace limitations on Russian planes and waning Russian spending power.

So far, Western visitors have compensated for 39 percent of Turkiye‘s Russian losses. Germany ranked first in Turkiye for tourists between January and June, with a 12.6 percent rise from the previous year. Russian tourists came in second, while British tourists came in third with a 26 percent increase from the first half of 2019.

However, official numbers encompassing the entire tourism year will emerge once the season is over.

The height of the tourism season begins in July, peaks in August, and usually stretches to October, Mert Kaanbykl, an employee at the Risus Park Hotel in Alanya told Fanack.

Euros, dollars, rubles and the lira

Kaanbykl, whose hotel features the European Union, Turkish, and Russian flags on its front, claims that Russians make approximately 80 percent of their customers this year, as they do every year.

“They like to stay in hotels but don’t usually spend much in markets, which is why for the tourism sector, it’s good to have Westerners bringing in euros and dollars into the country,” the receptionist said.

Turkiye’s economy relies heavily on tourism revenue. According to Reuters, the central bank net currency reserves are near a 20-year low and the Turkish lira remains at its approximate record low.

Annual inflation rates exceed 80 percent and the euro remains the strongest currency against the Turkish lira, reaching a staggering 18.35 lira to the euro versus 17.92 to the US dollar. The Russian ruble, on the other hand, buys 0.28 lira – at the time of writing.

“Having diverse tourists alleviates economic pressures by easing our dependence on one nation and currency,” Togoz said. “Our sector took a hit when the Russia-Ukraine war broke out. Luckily our government was quick to minimize the fallout.”

One mitigation strategy adopted by the government is the targeting of European markets by Turkish tour operators.

However, in Alanya, Russian-run hotels – specific to Russian nationals – are yet to open, Togoz says.

“I’m only seeing affluent Russians lately,” the tourist guide added. “Hotels may have to change their systems to adapt to new visitors’ needs. Russians prefer all-inclusive offers of breakfast, dinners, and entertainment at hotels, while Europeans generally prefer hostel-like bed and breakfast offers.”

Visitors on a budget

Mustafa Sönmez, a Turkish economist notes that the lira’s decline lures tourists, especially from neighboring countries such as Iran, whose numbers have climbed 19 percent this year. These visitors can benefit from competitive prices to shop for essential goods.

Turkiye had also greenlit passport-free visits for Bulgarian citizens who mostly flock to the northwestern bordering province of Edirne.

“However, high numbers alone are not enough,” Sönmez said. “We need visitors with high purchasing power to contribute to the economy. Unfortunately, the majority come on a budget.”

The economist contends that the sector’s revenue is needed to compensate for the trade deficit that jumped 157 percent in May. The main culprit: soaring energy imports.

“The sector, in its current form, won’t be able to cover the deficit, even minimally. It is therefore vital to develop it, as the country is ripe with potential,” Sönmez, said.

In an effort to aid the Turkish economy, President Recep Tayyib Erdogan confirmed that his country will start paying for a portion of its Russian natural gas imports in rubles.

The announcement was made on Friday, August 5, after more than four hours of talks between Erdogan and the Russian president Vladimir Putin in Sochi.

Although the amount of gas covered in ruble payments is still unknown, Erdogan affirmed that “since we will conduct this trade in rubles, it will of course bring money to Turkey and Russia.”

Winter tourism, an unexplored territory

Sönmez argues that the hyper-focus on beach tourism overshadows cultural and other forms of tourism, which he says, could attract more foreigners.

The historical Mount Ararat, for example, is a 5137 meters summit covered with snow all year round; a perfect place for climbing, trekking, and skiing. Cappadocia is another ancient landmark most famous for its unique geological features called “fairy chimneys,” carved dwellings, castles, and underground cities used as hiding places for early Christians.

“We need more promotion for winter tourism. There’s a lot that can be done even in the coastal cities. Once we have affordable offers promoted for winter visitors, we’ll have revenue flowing all year long,” Togoz said.

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