Empty gulets point to bleak outlook for Turkish tourism
ANKARA: A few months ago Fatih Oztarakci was working flat out hosting wedding parties on his traditional “gulet” wooden sailing boat, the iconic symbol of Turkey’s once-thriving Aegean coastline.Empty gulets point to bleak outlook for Turkish tourism
Today the gulets of Bodrum are tied up on the quayside and the tourists that once crowded the streets of the Turkish tourist boom town are absent.
“We were organizing very crowded Indian and Jordanian weddings. We were hosting guests, both tourists, and senior managers of international companies from the Middle East, India, Europe and Turkey,” he said. “But they all canceled their plans for this year because the flights were stopped.”
His company has to pay back the loans taken out to cover expenses of this year such as boat repairs and maintenance as well as the salaries of 60 people in a business that relies on three months of peak summer tourism to fund the rest of the year.
Bodrum, having hosted 1.5 million foreign tourists last year, has been particularly hard hit by the economic fallout from the virus.
With a recession and a currency meltdown even before the coronavirus outbreak, the halt in tourism activities, a mainstay of the economy, has exacerbated already high unemployment and inflation.
After attracting 51.8 million visitors last year and generating $34.5 billion in revenues, Turkish tourism accounted for 12 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
During the first quarter of the year, Turkey’s tourism revenues decreased by 11.4 percent compared with the same period of the previous year, according to official data.
But this year, with no tourist flow to the country since March, both small enterprises and big business in the sector face hurdles of different scales.
After months with no income, Ayse, 50, a mother of three and manager of a souvenir shop in Bodrum, said her expenses keep rising and she doesn’t know how to pay back her borrowing or her children’s private school fees. Her husband is one of the 2.5 million tourism workers in the country who have become unemployed.
“School management refused any discount on the fees,” she said. “I’m so worried about my financial situation as my husband’s company completely halted its operations and he only gets a partial payment of his monthly salary. I’m sure that tourists won’t come to Marmaris before August without being sure it is safe to go,” she said.
Hotels and restaurants in Turkey will be able to reopen May 27 if they pass an official inspection to ensure necessary hygiene precautions. But many sector professionals in the country are skeptical about any real recovery before a coronavirus vaccine is found.
Turkish Airlines plans a gradual resumption of its flights from June 11, but it will take four months to proceed to full operations.
Economists highlight the importance of tourism as a foreign currency generator for Turkey.
“The tourism sector is a significant foreign currency source for the Turkish economy. Now, there is a huge supply shock in the sector, it was almost completely shut down due to Turkish and other governments’ stringency measures,” said Ceyhun Elgin, a professor of economics from Bogazici University in Istanbul.
“However, even if the shutdown ends, it is very likely that the demand will get back to its pre-pandemic levels for some time. Employment and value-added forecasts on the travel, hospitality, and restaurant industry are quite depressing,” he told Arab News.
Marmaris is another virus-hit tourism hot spot that is suffering.
Emre Deliveli, an economist by profession and a hotel owner in Marmaris, was hosting mostly Russian and British tourists who usually arrive before the end of July.
“I have owned a 300 room-hotel since 1985, and we were normally starting our operations at the end of April. We were sustaining our business on foreign currencies.
“We are still planning to open the hotel on June 15 with about 150 staff working. However, we are not optimistic about this season with no large groups expected to come,” he told Arab News.