Russians' return boosts Turkish tourism prospects

FILE PHOTO: Russian tourists pause as they visit Ayasofya-i Kebir Camii or Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Istanbul, Turkey January 29, 2021. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Thousands of Russian tourists began arriving in Turkey on Tuesday, boosting hopes for its tourism sector after a two-month suspension in flights imposed by Moscow due to concerns about a surge in COVID-19 cases in April.

Turkey's tourism prospects have been revived by a sharp fall in daily coronavirus cases to around 5,000 from a peak of more than 60,000 two months ago, as well as an acceleration in vaccinations to more than 1 million a day.

The first plane arrived in Antalya from Moscow around dawn, carrying 132 passengers. Some 12,000 Russians were expected to arrive on 44 planes in the Mediterranean tourist hub of Antalya on Tuesday, state-owned Anadolu news agency said.

"In the last two weeks we are seeing better figures and better trend in daily reservations. Russian tourists are very keen to come to Turkey," TUI Fun&Sun Hotels CEO Volkan Simsek told an online tourism meeting on Monday evening.

"Similarly daily reservations that we are getting from the German market are encouraging. The Russian market is going well, the German market is going well," he said, with Germans expected to arrive from the start of July.

Some 2.13 million Russians visited Turkey last year, the highest level of any country but down from 7 million in 2019. The number of German visitors fell to 1.1 million last year, from more than 5 million in 2019.

Russia halted most flights to Turkey on April 15 and said last week they would resume on June 22.

Tourism revenues dived two-thirds to $12 billion last year and made a weak start in 2021 as COVID-19 hit an industry which accounts usually for up to 12% of the economy and is key to curbing the current account deficit.

Simsek forecast that the market for British tourists would open after mid-July and that the tourism season was expected to be extended to the end of November, but that a full recovery would take longer.

"I don't think it will be possible to make up for the losses of the last two years in the next six months. It will only be possible to do so when everything returns to normal in 2023."

Due to the expectations, the amount of hotels open this year was seen around 90% by July, compared with 50% opened last year.

"For the month of July, we are planning 75 additional flights. We're very happy with the developments as a company," said SunExpress CEO Max Kownatzki.

Fraport TAV Antalya Airport General Manager Bilgihan Yilmaz said its passenger traffic will double and may triple this year compared to 2020.

(Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans)

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