ANKARA: Russia is resuming air traffic with Turkey on Tuesday as Turkish tourism operators look forward to welcoming tourists back after a lost season.
The decision was made following a visit of delegation to Turkey to assess safety measures after Russia decided not to allow tourists to travel to the country until at least June 21 due to the “serious epidemiological situation” in the country.
Turkey is a top holiday destination for Russian tourists. In 2019, more than 7 million Russian tourists visited the country. This number fell to 2.7 million last year because of the pandemic, dealing a big blow to tourism revenues.
The announcement was welcomed by Turkish tourism operators. The fall in daily COVID-19 cases from a record high of 60,000 in April to below 6,000, with strict weekend lockdown measures and a nationwide inoculation drive, also provided a favorable environment.
Thousands of facilities, restaurants, cafes and tour and transfer vehicles in Turkey have been recently provided with the “Safe Tourism Certificate” through a governmental program.
Turkish tourism operators and industry representatives are urging Turkish authorities to apply strict measures for incoming Russians because Russia has also seen a significant growth in coronavirus cases in recent days, with daily figures reaching peak values.
Goksel Gungor, the co-founder of YTM Tourism Villa Aparts in Fethiye, the Mediterranean resort town, said they were welcoming thousands of Russian vacationers for the summertime villa and yacht tourism before the pandemic.
To meet the criteria of safe tourism, all his staff are fully vaccinated, and they have the necessary certificates. He said that they will get additional certificates that were required by Russian authorities for welcoming their nationals.
They also conducted detailed disinfections in all villas and will allow a full day for cleaning and air-conditioning in each accommodation before welcoming a new batch of tourists.
“Each year, we were usually getting about one thousand Russian tourists by the end of April and were hosting them until the middle of October at our villas and yacht facilities. So far, only Ukrainians came, but Russians are mostly preferred in this region because of their high purchasing power,” Gungor said.
“The region counts the hours for welcoming the long-anticipated Russian tourists who postponed their bookings rather than canceling them. And our prices remained more or less stable so as not to discourage them. The depreciation of Turkish lira will also help Russians to spend money easily compared to past years,” he added.
Germany recently removed Turkey from its list of high-risk countries, but Britain, the third-biggest source of holidaymakers, still keeps Turkey on its travel “red list.”
Bulut Bagci, president of World Tourism Forum Institute, expects that all European countries will lift the ban on their nationals coming to Turkey by the end of July.
“This summer, along with going to the Mediterranean resort towns, Russian tourists will be visiting Turkey’s famed Cappadocia and the southeastern province of Mardin. This is the first time that they have diversified their destination preferences to experience different places in the country,” he said.
Tours to Mardin are currently on sale in the Russian market, where it is promoted as “a dream city and city of civilizations.” Individual groups are also expected to visit the town during summertime. Tour operators from Russia recently visited the town to check the safety at the facilities.
However, Bagci believes Turkey needs to diversify its tourist profile and develop a strategy to attract tourists from Islamic world and African region as well.
“We should take lessons from the pandemic crisis. We should diversify the tourist flows and not be dependent on one source. The package that one African tourist buys is equivalent to the package of five Russian or European tourists. We should not only market our summer destinations, but try to market tourism products that appeal to the Islamic world,” he said.
Russian authorities simultaneously decided to lift flight bans to the US, Cyprus, Italy, Macedonia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Jordan and Ireland.