One particular sentence spoken by the Russian foreign minister Tuesday has Turkish officials feeling particularly uneasy: “We do not recommend that our citizens travel to Turkey for tourism or any other reason,” Sergey Lavrov said. He was in Sochi, where he canceled his own trip to Istanbul, planned for Wednesday, after Turkey’s military shot down a Russian jet in airspace along the Turkish-Syrian border Tuesday. Now, the Turkish tourism industry is bracing for the loss of a vital contingent of travelers and an associated decline in revenue.
“We cannot lose the Russian market,” said Osman Ayik, the head of the Turkish Hoteliers Federation, according to the Hurriyet Daily News. Comparing 2015 with 2014, the industry this year had already seen 800,000 fewer Russian tourists, who flock to Turkey especially for its idyllic seaside resorts, simply because Russians are facing their own economic struggles, Ayik said.
Russia has been hit by economic sanctions imposed by Western countries over its involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. A steep drop in the price of oil has also hurt its budget, as the production and export of oil and natural gas accounts for one-quarter of Russia’s gross domestic product. In 2014, 3.3 million Russians visited Turkey, a number that has decreased by 25 percent to date in 2015.
In the wake of the downed jet, Russia’s tourism agency also has called for holiday travel packages to Turkey from Russia be suspended. In combination with Lavrov’s advisory, that call could offset the fact Turkey became slightly more appealing to Russians after a plane headed to St. Petersburg from Sharm el-Sheikh, a resort city in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, crashed at the end of October and killed all 224 aboard. An affiliate of the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for downing that plane.
Amid a growing sense of alarm over the fate of tourism in Turkey, some have urged the two countries’ leaders to meet and work out their disagreements. “Russia is of great importance for our tourism sector. We want to see the resolution of the problems between the two countries immediately,” said Basaran Ulusoy, head of the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies. “We would like to see Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan resolve the issue via dialogue,” he said.
Spending on leisure tourism in Turkey in 2014 amounted to $54.7 billion, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council. The industry as a whole contributed 2.13 million jobs to the country’s economy and $95.8 billion to its almost $800 billion in GDP.