As the busy summer travel season approaches, Turkey’s tourism industry is struggling to recover from the devastating earthquakes that hit the country in February and claimed more than 50,000 lives.
A recent report by Reuters said that the earthquake has caused tourists to pause when it comes to booking a vacation in the country. But revenue from the industry is especially important at a time when the country is seeking to tackle a $48.8 billion deficit.
Hotel bookings of two or more nights in Istanbul decreased by 7% compared to 2019 in the weeks leading up to the earthquakes. But now that number has risen to 31% below 2019 levels, according to research from ForwardKeys, reported by Reuters.
The lack of hotel bookings results in lower revenues for both those in the travel industry and the country’s economy as a whole.
“After months of stellar performance, when the country was leading the recovery of travel in Europe (post-COVID pandemic), international tourism to Turkey is clearly declining,” Olivier Ponty, Vice President of Insights at ForwardKeys, told Reuters.
In the weeks and months leading up to the February earthquake, officials in Turkey had their sights set on a strong year for the tourism industry as the pandemic faded into the rearview mirror. The data supported such hopes. The number of foreign visitors arriving in Turkey rose 80% year-on-year to 44.5 million in 2022, according to Reuters.
Now, as the rest of Europe is seeing strong bookings, Turkey is falling behind.
“The year started strong in terms of bookings, but it became slow after the earthquake. Bookings have now recovered a bit but have not reached their previous pace,” Kadir Ugur, head of Germany and Switzerland tourism company Bentor Reisen, which specializes in travel to Turkey, told Reuters. “People get scared when you say another big disaster is waiting to happen in Istanbul.”
The upcoming elections in the country may also affect the travel industry. Elections scheduled for May 14 could cause fears of potential unrest as the country’s president faces the biggest political challenge of his two decades in office.
Local hoteliers told Reuters that while bookings began to pick up in April, they are particularly low in the first few weeks of May.
But not all regions of the country are suffering. In Turkey’s Mediterranean resort areas, which were not affected by the February earthquake, the number of foreign arrivals to the resort area increased by 54% in March year on year. This is a record. The vast majority of these visitors came from Russia, while others came from Germany and Britain.
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