Pop stars to the rescue of Turkey's battered tourism industry?

BERLIN (Reuters) - Turkish tourism officials hit by plummeting Russian bookings and grim urban bombings are hoping that Madonna, Justin Bieber or Jennifer Lopez can help revive business along their sunny Mediterranean coast.

A woman walks on the beach at sunset in the Mediterranean resort town of Belek in Antalya, Turkey, January 8, 2016. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

Tourism revenue in Turkey fell 14.3 percent in the final quarter of last year and 2016 bookings point to an even more challenging year for the country’s tourism industry, which accounts for about 4.5 percent of the $800 billion economy.

The “Turkish Riviera” around Antalya, the main vacation hub, is one of the worst hit areas. The local Chamber of Commerce (ATSO) appealed to Ankara’s tourism ministry this month after the number of Russian visitors in January tumbled by 81 percent.

Following the downing of a Russian warplane on Nov. 24, Moscow approved sanctions against Turkey and ATSO calculated the crisis would cost Turkey up to $11 billion.

Antalya, the main city on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, will host the EXPO 2016 world horticultural fair in April. ATSO thinks some star-studded musical support could help attract visitors worried by the headlines from the volatile region.

“EXPO 2016 should be turned into a big tourism push, for instance by organizing big concerts by international celebrities such as Madonna, Jennifer Lopez or Justin Bieber, to attract the interest of target markets,” a tourism ministry report said.

It remains to be seen whether “Bieber fever” or “Madonna madness” can calm security fears that saw booking numbers dive after a suicide bomber killed 10 German tourists in Istanbul in January, the first of several bombings in Turkey this year.

The German travel group TUI has reported a 40 percent drop in summer bookings in Turkey. On Wednesday, German airport operator Fraport, which operates Antalya’s airport, said it expected passenger numbers there to fall this year.

“The outlook ... is currently characterized by restrained holiday bookings in Germany and significant declining passenger figures in Turkey as a result of the recent terrorist attacks,” Fraport’s chief executive Stefan Schulte said in a statement.

Antalya Mayor Menderes Tuerel said he wasn’t concerned about the region’s outlook since tourism was highly volatile. New markets in Iran, China and the Gulf region would compensate for the drop in other visitors, he said.

“The Russian sanctions aren’t the end of the world,” Tuerel told Reuters at a TUI event in Berlin on Wednesday.

Tuerel couldn’t say which pop star would eventually appear at the fair as planning is still underway.

“But you can expect a big celebrity,” he said.

Additional reporting by Victoria Bryan; Editing by Tom Heneghan