by Burak Akinci
ANKARA, Feb. 25 (Xinhua) -- The unfolding conflict between Russia and Ukraine may hamper Turkey's recovering tourism industry as holidaymakers from the two countries constitute around a quarter of foreign arrivals to Turkish resorts, industry professionals said.
The current situation in Ukraine is posing risks to Turkey's tourism industry as travelers from the conflict-related countries may cancel reservations, they said, adding the proximity of Turkey to Ukraine may also deter tourists from European and other western countries from visiting.
"If the conflict drags on, there will undoubtedly be fewer tourists from Russia and, in particular, Ukraine. When there are hostilities, vacations aren't a priority," Esra Kilic, an official from an Ankara-based tour agency, told Xinhua.
"For the time being, there have been no reservation cancellations, but there has been a slowing down in the speed of reservations," said Firuz Baglikaya, head of the Turkish Association of Travel Agencies (TURSAB).
However, if the Russia-Ukraine conflict lingers, it would bring about a "serious risk" for the tourism sector, Baglikaya said.
"People (in the industry) are worried, but they have no choice except to wait and see," he said.
But officials are still hopeful that should the tension ease in March or April, tourism activity may not be impacted significantly in the summer season with last-minute bookings.
Russian and Ukrainian tourists are the main sources of income for Turkish hoteliers, particularly in resorts along Turkey's Mediterranean coast, dubbed the "Turkish Riviera," such as Alanya, Belek, and Kemer, all in the province of Antalya.
In the past three years, Turkey has received more than 20 million tourists from the two countries. Due to reasons such as the Covid-19 pandemic, tourism in Turkey has become increasingly dependent on Russian and Ukrainian tourists in recent years.
Last year, 4.7 million Russians and nearly 2 million Ukrainians visited Turkey, while total foreign tourist arrivals in the country stood at 24.7 million people, up 94 percent from 2020.
Russians and Ukrainians accounted for 19 percent and 8.3 percent of Turkey's international visitors in 2021, respectively.
The year 2022 was expected to be a year of full recovery from the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, which decimated Turkey's tourism plans and revenues.
Turkey's tourism revenues doubled to almost 25 billion U.S. dollars last year, while the figure was 34.5 billion dollars in 2019, prior to the outbreak of the pandemic. The government forecasts the income of this year will catch that of 2019.
But this target would prove challenging with the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine conflicts.
"With the rising geopolitical risk, the inflow of foreign exchange from the tourism sector may fall below expectations," said Enver Erkan, chief economist at the Istanbul-based Tera Securities.
According to Erkan, the Russia-Ukraine conflict would result in approximately a 20 percent decline in tourism revenues in Turkey in the long run.
The tourism industry, which accounts for some 10 percent of the country's gross domestic product, is crucial for Turkey as the country is witnessing economic woes with rising inflation, a depreciated currency, and low foreign reserves, analysts say. ■