Turkey tourist arrivals rise sharply in boost for Erdogan economic plan

Tourists visit the Church of the Holy Cross, an Armenian church on Akdamar Island in Lake Van, near the eastern Turkish city of Van, Turkey, May 21, 2022. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

ISTANBUL, Aug 22 (Reuters) - Turkey's foreign visitors jumped 53% in July from a year earlier, exceeding pre-pandemic levels and paving the way for $37 billion in tourism revenues sought by the government in support of President Tayyip Erdogan's unorthodox economy policy.

Foreign visitors to Turkey leapt to 6.67 million in July, mostly on the back of wealthy Russian visitors who opted for Turkey, due to flight restrictions applied by Western countries after Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Numbers of German and British visitors also rose strongly.

Tourism revenues are vital to Turkey's economy as Erdogan's economic plan focuses on expanding the current account surplus in order to tackle high inflation and interest rates.

The tourism ministry raised its year-end targets last month to 47 million tourists and $37 billion in tourism revenues.

"July figures were strong and so is August. When we look at the current bookings, number of flights and seats allocated by tour operators for September, October and November, it seems that ministry's targets will be achieved," said Bulent Bulbuloglu, Vice Chairman of Turkish Hoteliers Federation (TUROFED).

Along with high demand from Britons and Germans, Bulbuloglu pointed out wealthy Russians newly coming to Turkish market.

"Wealthy Russians who used to travel to more expensive destinations such as Spain, France, Italy and Greece have also turned their faces to Turkey due to flight restrictions by Western countries," said Bulbuloglu.

Year-to-date, Germans were the top source market with 2.99 million visitors, followed by 2.2 million Russians and 1.8 million Britons. Turkey's total foreign visitors were up by 128% on the year to 23.03 million, still a tad below 2019's 24.7 million.

"Especially the number of Russians are increasing day by day. Now we have around 80 daily flights from Russia to Antalya and we know that that number will also go up," said Ulkay Atmaca, General Manager of Innvista Hotels in Antalya's Belek.

Atmaca said, the outlook for the next two months was also optimistic, adding that he expected the season to be extended until November.

Weakening lira also makes Turkey a more attractive destination for foreign visitors.

Lira which is traded at historical lows, has lost 27% of its value this year, after it lost more than 40% of its value last year.

"Turkey has a big price advantage when compared with its European rivals. And no bdoubt, recent weakeness in lira makes the country more attractive" said TUROFED's Bulbuloglu.

Additional reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Ece Toksabay and William Maclean

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