Revitalized Gulf tourist arrivals bring momentum to Turkey’s tourism sector

Turkey expects tourist flows from the Gulf countries to regain momentum in the coming months after a brief drop following devastating earthquakes and the holy month of Ramadan, according to industry officials.

Foreign tourists in Turkey in the first quarter rose over 26.7% year-over-year to 6.2 million, according to Culture and Tourism Ministry data, spearheaded by arrivals from Russia, Bulgaria and Germany.

Industry officials say arrivals from the Gulf countries that saw an average of 20% in April have rebounded and are expected to gain further pace as of June.

Trips had been disrupted following the quakes on Feb. 6 that dragged down hotel bookings. Dubbed the worst disaster in the country’s modern history, the tremors jolted the southeastern region, killing over 50,000 people, flattening towns and cities and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless.

The holy month of Ramadan, an Islamic fasting month, is also said to have impacted arrivals.

“A powerful momentum will begin in our country from the second week of June, with the schools going on a break here,” said Müberra Eresin, head of the Turkish Hoteliers Association (TÜROB).

“We expect a 20% increase in the number of tourists coming from the region this year compared to last year,” Eresin told Daily Sabah on the sidelines of the Dubai Arabian Travel Market (ATM) fair.

Nearly 5 million tourists who arrived from the Gulf and the Middle Eastern countries in 2022 are expected to reach at least 6 million throughout this year.

Eresin cited what she said was a significant impact on city tourism by tourists from the Middle East and the Gulf.

“They come to Istanbul and also go to provinces such as Yalova, Bursa and Trabzon. Therefore, the contribution to city hotels is enormous. In addition, their long stays also contribute to tourism revenues,” she noted.

The foreign exchange makes the tourism sector vital to Turkey’s economy and the government’s focus on reducing the current account deficit to tackle high inflation and interest rates.

Its new economic program focuses on flipping the current account deficits to a surplus, prioritizing exports, production and investments while curbing rising prices inflation.

Tourism income rose 32.3% year-over-year to $8.69 billion this January-March, according to the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat) data.

Last year’s complete rebound from the pandemic fallout saw the number of foreign tourists near the record, generating all-time high revenues and prompting the government to raise its annual tourism estimates.

The government has said foreign arrivals are expected to reach 60 million in 2023 before hitting 90 million in 2028. For the income, it sees it rising to $56 billion this year and $100 billion five years from now.

Eresin said interest maintains pace despite room prices soaring by as much as 45% on a dollar basis, propelled by growing costs.

Meanwhile, Emirates is boosting its seat capacity for Türkiye this year by 13% and expects to carry 85% more passengers than a year ago. It currently operates three flights a day between Dubai and Istanbul for a total of 21 a week.

Emel Elik Bezaroğlu, Elite World Hotels & Resorts member of the board in charge of marketing, said they expect significant demand from the Middle East as of June.

“This market starts in June and remains mobile until October. Therefore, we will feel vitality until the end of the year,” Bezaroğlu said.

Foreign visitors surged 80.33% year-over-year to 44.6 million in 2022, just shy of the peak of 45.1 million in 2019. The figure is compared to the 24.71 million arrivals in 2021 and 12.73 million in 2020.

Revenues climbed 53.4% from a year earlier to a record high of nearly $46.3 billion, as lingering pandemic effects dissipated and the Ukraine war fallout drove a surge of Russian arrivals, partly due to flight restrictions imposed by Western nations on Russia.

Last year’s income blew past the previous high of $38.4 billion in 2019 before the pandemic hit. The figure stood at $30.2 billion in 2021 after the outbreak more than halved it to just $14.8 billion in 2020.