Türkiye raises bets as foreign arrivals near record, tourism revenues boom


Türkiye raised its tourism estimates on Tuesday, encouraged by fresh data that indicated a complete rebound from a pandemic fallout, as foreign arrivals in 2022 neared a record and revenues hit an all-time high.

Foreign visitors arriving in Türkiye surged 80.33% year-over-year to 44.6 million in 2022, just shy of the peak of 45.1 million in 2019, the Culture and Tourism Ministry said. The arrivals saw a rise compared to the 24.71 million foreign visitors in 2021 and 12.73 million in 2020.

Separate data showed tourism revenues jumped 53.4% year-over-year to a record $46.3 billion last year, blowing past the previous high of $38.4 billion in 2019 before the pandemic hit. The figure stood at $30.2 billion in 2021 after the outbreak more than halved it to just $14.8 billion in 2020.

Culture and Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy said foreign arrivals are expected to reach 60 million in 2023, before hitting 90 million in 2028. For the income, Ersoy said they see it rising to $56 billion this year and $100 billion five years from now.

COVID-19 restrictions all but dissipated in 2022 and Russians came in droves partly due to flight restrictions imposed by Western nations over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Hundreds of thousands of Russians are also estimated to have moved last year to Türkiye, seen as a safe haven for investment in homes and other assets.

Arrivals were also backed by a surging demand from European countries, spearheaded by Germany and the United Kingdom.

At 5.7 million, Germans topped the list among nations in 2022 and made up some 12.7% of all visitors, the Culture and Tourism Ministry data showed. They were followed by Russians at 5.2 million, Britons at 3.3 million, Bulgarians at 2.9 million and Iranians at 2.3 million.

The number of foreign tourists arriving in Türkiye in December alone rose 27% from the same period in 2021 to 2.4 million, the Culture and Tourism Ministry data showed. The tourism revenue climbed 22.2% year-over-year to $11.37 billion in the fourth quarter, the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat) said.

Record in spending

The foreign exchange it brings in makes tourism income vital to Türkiye’s economy, as the government’s new economic program focuses on flipping the current account deficits to a surplus, prioritizing exports, production and investments while curbing rising inflation.

A depreciation in the Turkish lira was one of the main drivers for European and Arab tourists last year, sector officials said. The lira weakened some 44% against the U.S. dollar in 2021 and nearly 30% in 2022 but remained stable in the last quarter.

Unveiling five-year targets at an event in Istanbul on Tuesday, Ersoy touted Türkiye’s success given that it managed to go through the coronavirus pandemic with less damage than other countries around the world.

Ersoy’s presentation suggested that foreign arrivals in Türkiye fell 69% after 2019 due to the outbreak that halted global travel and confined people to their homes, versus a 72% drop in the world. He said the world had reached 65% of pre-pandemic levels, whereas Türkiye rebounded to numbers seen before the outbreak.

Istanbul, Türkiye’s most famous city and its largest by population, remained the top draw for foreign visitors, welcoming more than 16 million tourists in 2022. It was followed by the Mediterranean resort city Antalya with 12.8 million visitors. Edirne, a city in northwestern Türkiye bordering Bulgaria and Greece, sat third with 4.6 million tourists.

The average expenditure per night for overnight visitors reached $87.50 in 2022, a record that Ersoy said is expected to jump to $95 this year and $118 in 2028.

The average expenditure per capita came in at $901 in 2022, the TurkStat data showed.

The number of Turkish citizens traveling abroad soared 165.4% to 7.3 million, with their average expenditure reaching $589 per capita, the data showed.

‘Immunity’ to crises

Ersoy also stressed that the government would be expanding its work regarding market diversification and promotional activities, instead of only focusing on nearby regions.

“Every destination that Turkish Airlines flies to is our target market. We have formed new focus markets within the scope of product diversification. We will see very serious increases in these markets,” he noted.

He particularly noted the United States. “We exceeded the number of 1 million visitors from the U.S. last year. Our goal is to host 1.7 or 1.8 million visitors in 2023,” he noted.

“We will also focus on the countries of South America, Scandinavia, the Gulf and the Far East. Another advantage of these countries is that they come from a remote destination, so they leave more money given the income per person since their average stay is longer.”

The main focus of the tourism strategies is finding a way to make Türkiye immune to crises, Ersoy said.

“Our market diversification studies are important in this regard. Türkiye is no longer a country that depends on a single market,” he said, stressing the ability to close any gap “with the share in the cake received from different countries.”

“Turkish tourism has now become immune to crises. For instance, there was a negative reflection caused by the exchange rate differences in the dollar parity. Still, despite this, we were not very impacted due to the market and product diversity,” the minister added.

“As is known, we are living with global cost inflation. We should no longer work by being cost-oriented but income-oriented. We have also achieved a very serious increase in our revenues.”

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