Turkey seeks health kick for sickly tourism sector

The Bosphorus Bridge and the Ortakoy Mosque, two of Istanbul’s tourist attractions. The coronavirus pandemic has severely damaged Turkey’s tourism sector, worth an annual $35 billion. (AFP)
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Updated 23 May 2020

Turkey seeks health kick for sickly tourism sector

  • Turkey ranks sixth globally in tourist arrivals

ISTANBUL: At a luxury hotel in Istanbul, staff in gloves and masks space out and disinfect tables as they prepare for a scheme which Turkey hopes will rescue part of its $35 billion tourism industry from the ravages of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The “healthy tourism certificate” program aims to convince travelers that despite the global pandemic, Turkey’s beaches and historic treasures will be safe to visit this year, with rigorous checks on airlines, local transport and hotels.

“The more transparent and detailed information we give, the more we will earn the confidence of tourists,” Tourism Minister Mehmet Ersoy told Reuters, setting out plans to open at least half of Turkey’s hotels this year.

Turkey ranks sixth globally in tourist arrivals, and tourism accounts for 12 percent of an economy now facing its second recession in two years. Figures released on Friday showed the pandemic slashed foreign arrivals by 99 percent last month.

With so much at stake, the government is intensively lobbying 70 countries to convince them that Turkey will be a safe destination as it gradually eases its domestic lockdown.

The new certificates set criteria for health and hygiene in airlines, airports and other transport, as well as hotels, restaurants, bars and cafes. They will be awarded by international institutions and information will be sent to tour operators and will be accessible to tourists.

At Istanbul’s Four Seasons Hotel, the general manager, Tarek Mourad, said the scheme would help reassure visitors, adding that Turkey’s robust health care infrastructure, major new airport and far-reaching flag carrier Turkish Airlines were also assets.

“If you put all these together we create a better chance for Turkey to recover faster,” Mourad said on a terrace overlooking Hagia Sophia, once Christendom’s foremost cathedral and then a mosque before becoming a leading tourist attraction as a museum.

Travel company TUI said it had offers for travel from June 15. Leisure airline Corendon hopes to launch a summer package in late June, whereby Dutch holidaymakers will be tested for the virus before flying and will remain restricted to hotel grounds.

Ersoy said COVID-19 testing centers were being set up at airports. 

“Those guests who come without having been tested in the last 72 hours will all be tested,” he said.

Passengers in terminals will be required to wear masks, and temperatures will be taken with forehead thermometers.

The project has drawn support from the tourism sector but there are worries about the level of international interest.

“We have to be realistic, this will be a slow process. The opening of 50 percent (of hotels) in July would be a big success in my opinion,” said Erkan Yagci, chairman of the Mediterranean Touristic Hoteliers and Investors Association.

Turkish Travel Agents Association Chairman Firuz Baglikaya said the main foreign arrivals would not be until September-October, and Russia, the leading market, which sent seven million tourists last year, would start later than others.

Foreign currency earnings from tourism may fall 60-70 percent this year, with the domestic market halving in size, he said.

The initial test from the end of this month will be the resumption of domestic tourism, but the real prize is foreign tourists.

In the Mediterranean tourism hub of Antalya, domestic tourists made up less than 20 percent of some 100 million annual overnight stays, according to the owner of a holiday complex in the region who declined to be named.

“The rest is ... foreign visitors. Without them, there is no point in opening,” he said. 

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Saudi economy can withstand pandemic: Finance minister

Updated 25 May 2020

Saudi economy can withstand pandemic: Finance minister

  • Mohammed Al-Jadaan thanks Saudi leadership for urgent decisions taken to deal with the coronavirus crisis

JEDDAH: The Saudi economy can withstand the coronavirus crisis despite the need to cut spending, Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan said on Saturday. 

“The Saudi economy is able to absorb the decline in revenues and to deal with the budget deficit,” he said, adding that the government “firmly addressed this crisis with all determination, while prioritizing the safety and health of its citizens and residents.”

Al-Jadaan said the government “also worked hard to provide people with their basic needs, secure the necessary resources for health care systems, financially and economically support those most affected by the pandemic, and re-prioritize spending under the current circumstances.”

He thanked the Saudi leadership for “its unlimited support, and for the urgent decisions taken by the government to deal with the coronavirus crisis, including the initiatives it had launched to protect the Kingdom’s economy and support the private sector, its enterprises, low-income individuals and investors.”

The Kingdom “also showed a great sense of responsibility and commitment by holding the extraordinary G20 Summit in the framework of its presidency of the group, and recommending an injection of $7 trillion into the global economy as part of the financial policies, economic measures and security schemes aimed at facing the social, economic and financial repercussions of the pandemic,” he said.

“Saudi Arabia called for the bridging of the funding gap, estimated at $8 billion, to discover and develop new diagnostic tools, treatments and vaccines, while also providing $500 million of the required amount.”

Al-Jadaan congratulated the Saudi leadership on the occasion of Eid, and asked God to bless the Kingdom, protect it from the pandemic, and maintain its security and stability.