Tough times for Turkish tourism hit by terrorism & Russian ban

Police officers search a car during a security control check in central Ankara, Turkey © Umit Bektas
Turkey’s once booming tourism industry is facing difficult times. The Russian tourism ban over the downed jet in Syria and the recent series of terrorist attacks has led to a sharp drop in visitors.

Tourism revenue fell 14.3 percent in the final quarter of last year. Bookings for this summer plunged 40 percent and hotel occupancy rates have more than halved since 2015, the Wall Street Journal cited industry figures. According to the media, hundreds of hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, and boutique resorts have been put up for sale.

“We didn’t dream of such a terrible situation,” 35-year-old hotelier in Antalya Bora Adali told the WSJ. “We are facing a big crisis, and its scope hasn't yet been recognized.” Adali is trying to sell his three-star resort.

Tourism is the lifeline of Turkey’s $800 billion economy. It accounts for more than four percent of the country’s gross domestic product. More than a million registered workers are employed in the tourism industry.

The “Turkish Riviera” around Antalya, the country’s major vacation hub, is struggling the most. According to statistics from the tourism office in Antalya, the Mediterranean province used to host 75 percent of the Russian tourists coming to Turkey.  However, the number of Russian tourists plunged 81 percent in January compared with the same month the year before.

German operator Fraport which runs Antalya's airport said it expected passenger numbers to fall this year.

READ MORE: Turkey wants Russian tourists back amid ‘sudden’ industry decline – PM

Russia has traditionally been one of the main sources of tourists for Turkey. Everything changed after the downing of a Russian jet by Turkey last November. In response, Moscow imposed economic sanctions against Ankara, banning charter flights and sale of package holidays to the country.

According to analysts, the loss of Russian tourism could cost Turkey about $7 billion a year. Turkish PM Ahmed Davutoglu said last month that the government expects Russian tourists to come despite tensions between Ankara and Moscow.

However, it is not just Russian sanctions that are hurting Turkey’s tourism industry but also security concerns.

A string of terrorist attacks apparently targeting tourist areas has frightened off visitors from Europe. A suicide bombing rocked the main shopping street in central Istanbul on Friday, killing at least five and injuring 36 others. Twelve of the injured were foreigners.

Two weeks ago, the Turkish capital Ankara was hit by a grenade-and-gun attack, carried out by two female terrorists.

In a separate attack, at least 28 people were killed and 61 wounded in a car explosion in Ankara last month.

Terrorist attacks in Turkey have increased over the past few months, as the country intensified its military campaign against Kurdish controlled areas in Syria. However, Ankara has blamed the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) for the weekend bombing attack in Istanbul.