Turkey Forest Fires Scorch Recovery in the hobbling tourism sector | Voice of america

ISTANBUL – Forest fires scorching some of Turkey’s most popular tourist destinations have turned on its head an incipient recovery in the country’s tourism sector that has been hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic for more than a year.

Scenes of happy beach goers flocking to the coastal areas turned into nightmarish when fires forced mass evacuations of tourists and locals in cities like Bodrum and Marmaris.

Tuesday marked the seventh day in a row that Turkish firefighters battled the flames, fueled by unusually high summer temperatures and strong winds. The fires were blamed for at least eight deaths and forced numerous residents, including many farmers, to flee.

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Aside from the physical destruction, the economic impact is already costly.

“We are devastated,” said Huseyin Aydin of Bordum Tour, a travel agency that books boat trips in the Mediterranean. “All routes for the boat tours have been canceled with immediate effect, and they will also be canceled next year as all the natural attractions on our tours are completely burned out.”

Aydin told VOA that its business will have to move to other tourism companies or risk total closure.

Elsewhere in the country it looks less bleak.

Tourists visit the Roman Temple from 150 AD, of Apollo, the Greek and Roman god of music, harmony and light, in Antalya, southern Turkey, on Aug.

Crowds of tourists have strolled the streets of Istanbul after the Turkish government lifted almost all pandemic-related restrictions in an effort to stimulate economic activity and the country’s vital tourism sector.

“It was an overwhelmingly positive experience,” said Tania Nel, a Qatar resident who spent almost a month touring Turkey.

“It was a country I could easily enter with just one PCR” [COVID test], and get a visa for online. I’ve always wanted to see Turkey and since other countries are closed it seemed like a very obvious choice, ”she told VOA. “Since it is comparatively cheap here, I was able to stay longer and see many regions of the country.”

Turkey attempted to remain an international tourist destination during the pandemic, only required a COVID-19 negative test to enter the country, and exempted foreigners from some restrictions such as curfews and travel restrictions within the country. Nel said easy access brought them to Turkey.

“I originally planned to go to South Africa in July to see my family, but they were seeing a surge in cases and tighter restrictions, hence the decision to come to Turkey,” said Nel, who is originally from Cape Town, South Africa , originates.

Delayed recovery

Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism says the number of incoming foreigners exceeded just under 2 million in June this year, less than half of the total in June 2019, which saw over 5 million foreign visitors.

This hits particularly hard in Turkey, where tourism makes an important contribution to the national economy. The Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation describes Turkey’s tourism industry as “one of the most dynamic and fastest growing sectors in Turkey”, accounting for more than two million jobs and more than 7% of total employment.

Incoming tourists report that they receive particularly warm greetings from hotel employees with tight budgets.

“They greeted all tourists like kings,” said Nel.

The low level of tourism has limited the economic recovery usually expected in summer. Many companies report persistent and intense financial difficulties.

“We are currently in a really difficult time economically,” said Turgay Karahan, who owns two souvenir shops in a tourist-frequented district of Istanbul.

Foreign tourists visit Buyukada, the largest of the Princes' Islands in the Sea of ​​Marmara, off Istanbul, Turkey, July 14, 2021.
Foreign tourists visit Buyukada, the largest of the Princes’ Islands in the Sea of ​​Marmara, off Istanbul, Turkey, July 14, 2021.

A shortage of customers forced Karahan to let employees go and work longer hours for a fraction of the pre-pandemic income.

“We work more, but we also earn less. Most of the money we make is spent on taxes and rent. So I’m in a very difficult position as an employer, ”Karahan told VOA.

Numerous cafes, restaurants and bars in Istanbul and elsewhere have been permanently closed since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Karahan spoke wistfully of the crowds of tourists who used to crowd his souvenir shops.

“Turks used to feel like strangers on this street because there were so many international tourists here. Before the pandemic, tourists from England, Germany, France and Italy could be seen on the streets in the summer. It’s not like that at all these days, ”he said.

loss of earnings

Kuzey Yucehan, who owns a restaurant just around the corner from Galata Tower, one of Istanbul’s top tourist attractions, is also feeling the financial pain.

Employees at Kuzey Yucehan's Art Smyrna restaurant are seen setting up freshly painted tables to attract customers during an otherwise sluggish summer tourist season in Istanbul (VOA / Salim Fayeq).
Employees at Kuzey Yucehan’s Art Smyrna restaurant are seen setting up freshly painted tables to attract customers during an otherwise sluggish summer tourist season in Istanbul (VOA / Salim Fayeq).

“For months we were only in use for take away [orders]but the business that brought it was unsustainable. Because of this, we have a lot of trouble making ends meet and being profitable, ”Yucehan told VOA, adding that many companies have had to fend for themselves.

“Although the government presented itself to companies in Turkey as helpful and generous in the media, we as an independent company received no financial relief,” said Yucehan. “We hope that the COVID will pass and that the world will soon return to normal.”

This report includes some information from Reuters.

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