From left to right: The Sultan Ahmed Mosque; the Hagia Sophia; the Seraglio Point consisting of the Topkapı Palace and the Sea Walls; and the Galata Tower at far right, the Golden Horn (Source Selda Yildiz and Erol Gülsen)

Turkey’s rich historical heritage has transformed it into an important touristic destination. Be it the Aegean seaside, the city of Istanbul or the ruins of ancient Greek cities, tourism has always been a blossoming sector. Since the 1980s, due to major state investment, Turkish tourism has begun to increase rapidly, entering the ranks of the global market[1]. In the last three decades, the number of tourists has sky plummeted. To this end, in 1988 the country was visited by a total of 4.1 million tourists that grew up to 10 million in 1997[2] and 22 million in 2007[3]. The number of tourists kept increasing to such an extent that from 2015 to 2019, there has been a staggering growth of over 10 million visitors from worldwide, leading to a high-water mark of more than 51 million tourists in 2019[4].

However, for one year now, the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic has crippled Turkey’s tourism sector to such an extent that in 2020 the figure fell 71.7% to just about 12.7 million tourists[5], about the same number as in 2002[6]. Most of the tourists keep on being Russians and Ukrainians, as this has been traditionally happening for years.

In the first part of spring, Turkey had high hopes of relaunching its tourism sector, which would have greatly boosted the country’s economy. Turkish Travel Agencies Association (TÜRSAB) Chairperson Firuz Bağlıkaya emphasized that the agency was working to revitalize and prepare the tourism sector for the upcoming season. Bağlıkaya has announced that TÜRSAB expects a foreign currency inflow of up to $25 billion. Furthermore, he added that arrivals from the United Kingdom and Europe depend on the “vaccination card”, details that are yet to be determined. This is why the agency planned to focus mainly on tourists arriving from Russia and Ukraine, the two most significant incoming tourists for Turkey. These tourists had started arriving at the beginning of April. Bağlıkaya was optimistic, saying that “Turkey will host at least 25 million tourists.”[7]

There were high hopes from the Cappadocia region to attract a consistent number of tourists throughout the year, as it had already been visited by 200,000 tourists in the first quarter of 2021, according to figures coming from Turkey’s Culture and Tourism Ministry. This was due to effective COVID-19 safety measures. İsmail Sucu, a member of the Cappadocia Regional Executive Board of the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies said that he expects about 2 million tourists in the second half of the year, the majority from Russia and Ukraine, along with local tourists as had happened thus far in the first quarter of 2021. Concerning the future of Cappadocian tourism, Sucu added: “As the situation with the pandemic improves over the coming years, we expect to be hosting around 4 million to 5 million tourists in Cappadocia”[8].

Turkey expected to receive in the future many more visitors from other European countries. To this end, Deputy Culture and Tourism Minister Nadir Alpaslan stated: “In 2021, we are expecting to host 34 million foreign visitors in our country with a rise of 100 percent from last year”. He added that most of them would arrive from Russia, Germany, Ukraine, Poland, Great Britain, and the Netherlands[9].

However, these plans may be overturned due to recent surge in Coronavirus cases, with up to over 60,000 cases per day, which possibly motivated Russia to impose a travel ban to Turkey, which will be in effect until June 1st. The real reason might have to do with Turkey backing Ukraine in the Donbass conflict. In any case, this will have a great impact on tourism as in 2019, more than seven million Russians visited Turkey and in 2020 there were 2.1 million Russian tourists. This means an annual revenue of $4 billion to $4.5 billion for the Turkish economy[10]. According to the Turkish Minister of Tourism, Mr. Mehmet Nuri Ersoy, this will have great impact on Turkey: “There might be a fall of nearly 500,000 in tourist numbers”[11].

In response to Russia’s decision, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who maintains a good relationship with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (thanks to having common grounds in the Donbass conflict), urged Ukrainians to visit Turkey. This could be beneficial to Turkish tourism as Ukrainians are among the most numerous yearly tourists to Turkey, totaling 1.4 million in 2018, 1.6 million in 2019 and nearly 1 million in 2020[12]. This will greatly benefit the country’s economy as total revenue is expected to reach $23 billion, up from $12.5 billion in 2020. To have a better understanding of the pandemic impact on tourism, it is worth mentioning that in 2019 the country’s total tourism revenue was nearly $35 billion[13].

However, the recent pandemic surge has put a hold on Turkey’s tourism plans, and has had disastrous consequences on the country’s economy, leading to the depreciation of the Turkish Lira against the US dollar, rising unemployment, high inflation and unstable economic leadership. The surge is a consequence of people’s disrespect for rules and restrictions, as well as indifference to danger and the doctors’ failure in applying the health ministry’s instructions. Another factor is the government’s inconsistency in applying some restrictive measures. The only solution for a bounce back is to have an efficient vaccination program, which is possible, as some 20 million Turks have already been vaccinated[14]. Following the surge, Turkey has imposed an array of new restrictions, such as curfews and closures meant to last until mid-May[15].

In spite of these measures, the number of cases fell just slightly, which led President Erdogan to impose a lockdown in order to curb the surge in cases. This lockdown implies measures similar to those taken worldwide, with official approved intercity travel, online school lessons, limited public transport, etc. Currently, more than 50 of the country’s 81 provinces are designated as “red” or “very high-risk” zones[16]. The lockdown aims to reduce infection to around 5,000 cases per day from an average of 60,000[17], and is meant to last until May 17th[18].

Whether it will be successful or not, the lockdown will definitely affect Turkish tourism, along with the Russian travel ban. However, that does not mean that a recovery is not possible. Nonetheless, after the lockdown ends and the travel ban is lifted, the number of tourists will be greatly affected and it is likely to remain lower than 34 million, as the Ministry of Tourism had originally announced.


[1] Arzu Öztürkmen – “Turkish Tourism at the Door of Europe: Perceptions of Image in Historical and Contemporary Perspective” in Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 41, No 4/2005, p. 609.

[2] Ayșe Ince – “Tourism in Turkey” in Insight Turley, No 11/1997, Profile of Turkey’s 1998 Budget (December 1997), p. 149.

[3] Tourism in Turkey / Tourism History of Turkey, Milestones of Tourism Industry in Turkey

[4] Tourism in Turkey

[5] Turkey draws 12.7M tourists in 2020 amid pandemic

[6] Tourism in Turkey / Tourism History of Turkey, Milestones of Tourism Industry in Turkey.

[7] Turkey holds high hopes for 2021 tourism sector,, accessed at 12.04.2021.

[8] Tourists make beeline for Turkey’s famous Cappadocia,

[9] easyJet aims to carry 1 million tourists to Turkey

[10] Turkey: Russia plays hardball over tourism amid Ukraine dispute

[11] Turkey could lose half a million tourists from Russia flight restrictions

[12] Ukrainians urged to vacation in Turkey after Russia’s travel ban

[13] Turkey expects up to $25 billion in tourism revenues this year

[14] Covid-19 in Turkey: Where did it go wrong?

[15] Turkey issues COVID-19 guidelines on partial curfew

[16] Covid-19: Turkey announces full lockdown to curb surge in cases

[17] Despite 3-week lockdown, many remain on the move in Turkey

[18] Covid-19: Turkey announces full lockdown to curb surge in cases

Disclaimer. The views and opinions expressed in this analysis are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of MEPEI. Any content provided by our authors is of their opinion and is not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual, or anyone or anything.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About the author:

By Andrei Cosmin POPA

Andrei Cosmin POPA is a Ph.D. History student, Doctoral School of the Faculty of History, University of Bucharest. Areas of interest: contemporary history, history of communism.

Post a comment