Written by Yulia Vladimirova; Originally appeared at A-specto, translated by Borislav exclusively for SouthFront
Seven months after the downing of the Russian combat aircraft by Turkey, relations between Russia and Turkey are seemingly moving toward improvement. After Erdogan apologized for the downing, Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan have agreed to normalize trade and economic relations during a telephone conversation, and also to meet in person. In that telephone conversation, Putin said that the sanctions with respect of tourism of Russian citizens in Turkey will be removed.
In February “Russia Segodnya” stated that trade between the two countries had fallen to 23 billion dollars. The conclusion is that Turkey is mainly suffering from the sanctions. In that article, the Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov commented: “Turkish businessmen are very well educated and understand that the loss of transactions with Russia has cost them billions of dollars.”
The losses in the tourism sector are also big, and that can be seen even without looking at the numbers, nor do we need to be economists and specialists in tourism. Just a look at the pictures of abandoned airports and apocalyptic looking empty beaches of otherwise well known Turkish resorts. The Russians are gone, but not only them. Just in May, the inflow of tourists to Istanbul fell three times and this is the biggest decline in the past 22 years. The empty lanes and massive police presence around the Blue Mosque tell their own story.
After the last attack at airport “Ataturk” in Istanbul, which killed 41 people and wounded another 230, Turkey’s tourism (in its capital and resorts) will be harmed again. American tourist Wendy Deaton, who was passing through the airport of Istanbul shortly before the deadly attack, explained the feeling of shock and horror of what is happening in Turkey, and that anyone who passes through the Turkish capital is in great danger, which will be devastating for the Turkish economy and tourism.
The Association of Turkish Travel Agencies fears that revenues from the tourism industry of Turkey this year will be reduced by 40%. Shares in Turkish Airlines fell by 1.5 percent on Wednesday, because of fears that the market for passenger transit, that somewhat softened the decline of incoming visitors, can also be hit because of the bombings.
Compared to May last year, May this year saw a significant drop in Russian tourists at seaside resorts, a decline that reached 90% compared to the same month last year. The percentage is so high because Kremlin banned all charter flights from Russia to Turkey, due to deteriorating relations between the countries after the provocation of the Turkish side with the downing of the Russian aircraft in November.
According to the deputy chief editor of “Zaman-Bulgaria” Tayfur Hussein, German tourists have also significantly reduced, their decline was 32% in May. Among the leading causes are the terrorist attacks in Istanbul (which killed 11 German tourists) and Ankara. Hussein says: “In May, the decline in tourists is 34.67%, Turkey was visited by nearly two million and 485,000 tourists. This is the largest annual decline since 1995, since we began keeping official statistics. Losses for the sector are expected to reach $10 billion and 8 million tourists, which will reflect very negatively on the local economy. The local business sector is collapsing, and experts say that it will take years to recover. Thousands of hotels are for sale at the Aegean coast. Turkish Businesses expect the Turkish state to help out tourism in the country.”
Ankara’s only hope is has for a rapid rapprochement between the two countries. But to what extent will the removal of restrictions on travel to Turkey by the Russian side, enhance the flow of tourists to Turkey? Experts in the tourism industry are skeptical.
If look at things realistically, everyone can change their summer destination to a country that doesn’t have deadly attacks with many casualties every month. Istanbul is not the colored lively city that we remember and that we visited to experience the abundance of spices and colors of the Orient. Istanbul today is a city of death and terror, a city whose vitality and sense of grandeur were destroyed and submerged in bloody cocktails, created by Erdogan’s political skills.
Before the downing of the Russian fighter jet and the imposed economic sanctions by Russia, Turkey was one of the most popular destinations for Russians. According to Irina Tyurina, a spokeswoman for the Russian Union of Tourist Industry, the first tourists will be able to travel to Turkey a week after the abolition of restrictions and full charter flights will be fully resumed within a month. According to Tyurina, Turkey will do its utmost to ensure the security of Russian tourists in the resorts. “I think Turkey will take great efforts because they have no choice, they simply die without their tourism industry”. According to forecast of early prices for holidays in Turkey, they will be formed based on providing a stream of tourists, and after prices will depend on the market situation.
Mikhail Emelyanov, head of the subcommittee on tourism in the State Duma Committee on Economic Policy, told TASS that he believed the flow of Russian tourists can be restored completely next year. “Now is the peak of the tourist season and this year a full recovery is not possible to the level before the introduction of restrictions. That can not happen now, because Russian tourists have already purchased other packages and will not go to Turkey. But next year they can rely on the full flow of Russian tourists to Turkey”.
An operator from TEZ TOUR, Larissa Akanova tells Tass that while restrictions can be removed quickly, the flow of tourists from Russia to Turkey in 2016 will be much smaller compared to last year. She said that the decision of President Putin to abolish restrictions on travel of Russian tourists to Turkey, does not mean that this destination will be open. Akanova added that TEZ TOUR does not expect a quick recovery of tourist flow from Russia to Turkey to the levels before the crisis. “It is likely that prices for the Turkish resorts will remain comparable with the prices for 2015, but in general it will depend on the value of the ruble against the dollar. In the event of sharp fluctuations in the exchange rate, the cost of travel in rubles could increase by 15-20%,” says Akanova.
At the end of 2015, Turkey was visited by 3.6 million Russian tourists, and a year earlier the figure was more than 4 million.
According to Tayfur Huseyin, Turkey’s international isolation has led President Recep Erdogan to take the diplomatic initiative to improve relations with Israel and Russia. “That was the logical end of the misguided foreign policy of the Justice and Development Party in recent years – from zero problems with all of our neighbors, to many problems with every neighbor and confrontation with the great powers. That reconciliation with a former partner occurred within 24 hours was surprising. Erdogan’s demonization of Israel and Russia brought serious political dividends for the ruling party, but also caused serious economic losses to Turkey. In economic terms, Turkey proved to be vulnerable at a time when the political triumphant procession of Erdogan peaked. Domestic and international investors are fleeing Turkey, while our exchange reserves fell heavily. Erdogan’s unpredictable political adventures and the threat of terrorism lead to the irreversible decline of foreign tourists in Turkey. Turkish tourism is nearing collapse and tourism is among the most important sector for the local economy. Tourism in the country suffered its greatest blow, after the boycott of the two most important countries in this respect – Russia and Germany, from where 9 million tourists a year came.” said Huseyin Tayfur for a-specto.bg.
Simply put, there will be no subsidies for developing relations with Turkey, in other words, no special privileges given for tourists going to Turkey. Instead, what will prevent many from going to Turkey will be due to exchange rates and how much the Ruble devalued, will make it far too expensive to travel to Turkey now than it was a year and half ago. Russian’s will also see how terrorism caused in Turkey, is indication it isn’t safe to travel there. Crimea and Sochi will continue to grow in terms of domestic tourism.