Turkey’s tourist arrivals bounce back yet challenging season looms
Some 790,687 foreign visitors came in last month, skyrocketing 3,162% from the same month of last year, Culture and Tourism Ministry data showed Monday.
Only 24,238 foreigners trickled in the same month of 2020, a month after Turkey began closing borders and restricting activity after it logged its first COVID-19 case.
April arrivals were down from a month earlier and only a quarter of the arrivals in 2019 before the pandemic hit, the data showed, suggesting the tourism season may get off to a tough start.
A coronavirus spike last month and foreign travel warnings have enforced cancellations of many early bookings and prompted Russia, Turkey’s top source of visitors, to halt flights.
Compared to March of this year, when coronavirus curbs were briefly lifted, tourist numbers dipped 12% last month. In April 2019 nearly 3.3 million foreigners arrived.
Last month, Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city by population, was the top draw for foreign visitors with a 53% share, attracting 419,686 foreigners.
It was followed by the Mediterranean resort city of Antalya and Edirne in northwestern Turkey, which borders both Bulgaria and Greece.
Some 2.7 million foreigners arrived in the January-April period, down 35.6% from a year ago.
Russia topped the list of visitors by nations from January through April with 552,048, followed by Iran with 194,384 and Ukraine with 187,029.
Accounting for 20% in April, Russia last month suspended most flights until June 1, citing rising COVID-19 cases.
Yet uncertainty over whether Moscow will allow its citizens to travel is causing concerns among the industry as well as tourists. The Russian government has denied reports that the ban had been extended until the end of June.
Some 2.1 million Russians came last year and 6 million in in the year before the pandemic.
Moscow’s decision to halt most flights is said to have blocked the plans of 500,000 tourists, who had hoped to visit during the April-June period.
Turkish officials were in Russia’s capital last week to hold meetings on tourism and resuming air travel.
Russia is expected to send a delegation to assess measures taken by Turkey to protect airports, hotels and other tourist locations from the coronavirus before deciding on when to lift its flight ban.
Officials have also said the calendar regarding air travel could be unveiled at the end of May.