ISTANBUL-Turkey's tourism sector has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, and those whose livelihoods depend on visitors are hoping for a better season in 2021.
Most of the hotels in the southern province of Antalya, the tourism sector's heartland with a bed capacity of nearly 600,000, have closed their doors until the next holiday season which is expected to start in April 2021.
Nearly 3.3 million tourists visited the sunny Mediterranean province in the first 10 months of this year, a 77-percent decline year-on-year, according to the provincial directorate of culture and tourism.
Turkey, the world's sixth most popular travel destination, welcomed some 9.46 million foreign visitors during the first nine months of 2020, Turkey's Culture and Tourism Ministry announced on Oct 30.
Projections for the entire year stand at around 12 million tourists, far below last year's numbers, to say nothing of the huge loss in revenues.
In 2019, revenues had hit a record $34.5 billion with more than 45 million foreign visitors. Antalya, alone, with its golden beaches and archaeological features, hosted a record number of nearly 15 million foreign tourists.
After the COVID-19 crisis erupted, the Culture and Tourism Ministry adjusted its 2020 target of 50 million tourists to 15 million overall.
With the help of the Safe Tourism Certification program, which covers a broad range of health-safety measures in transport, accommodation and recreational facilities for tourists and hospitality employees, Culture and Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy says a total tourism income of $11 billion was achievable this year.
"It has been very hard and challenging with this pandemic and the travel restrictions of many European states, despite the industry's efforts to ensure a safe holiday for our guests," Esra Atac, manager of a travel agency located in Ankara, says.
"But we think Turkey is doing all right compared to other major tourism destinations. We were quick to react to this global health crisis, and we are gathering energy for next year," Atac says.
Most hoteliers were hoping for an extended holiday season until the end of the year, but the resurgence of novel coronavirus infections in many tourist source countries has dashed these hopes. Germany and the United Kingdom have ordered new lockdowns and travel bans.
Players in Turkey's tourism sector aim to further expand the market as they make preparations for 2021.
"It could have been worse. We are drawing lessons from this year's challenges to start anew for next year with new offers to our visitors, with different alternatives," says Volkan Yorulmaz, a board member of the Professional Hotel Managers Association of Turkey.
"We have important initiatives that will attract tourists not only from a few places but from every corner of the world," says Yorulmaz.
Cultural tourism may serve as a cure for the sector.
The pandemic has further consolidated Turkey's comparative advantages in cultural tourism, says Faruk Pekin, a pioneer in the industry.
"Whichever country has open-air historical sites will have a comparative advantage. Turkey has much more when compared with any other country in the Mediterranean," he says.