For many decades, Russians were the top nationality of Turkey’s tourism industry, flocking particularly to the Mediterranean region of Antalya. Likewise, when Turkey opened its real estate market to foreigners, Russians flocked to buy apartments and villas, and many of them become expats enjoying the carefree lifestyle and ideal weather climate.
It seemed like a friendship made in heaven, yet the bond was tested in 2015, when a Turkish F16 fighter jet shot down a Russian jet. Only one of the officers on board survived. The Turkish government said the Russian jet had violated their airspace, despite being warned ten times to change course. However, Russia said their satellite data showed the jet had been inside Syrian airspace.
The world watched with baited breath to see what course of events would follow. Fortunately, both countries agreed that war was not in their best interest, but Russia said they would evaluate their relationships with Turkey.
What was to follow was a blinding strike of economic sanctions that affected the tourism, real estate and export industry of Turkey as well as a planned billionaire dollar gas pipeline project. Turks working in Russia were unable to renew their contracts and Russian travel agents stopped selling flights or package holidays to Turkey.
This had a devastating effect on the Turkish tourism industry but in particular the region of Antalya. Arrival figures tanked, and Russians stopped buying property in Antalya. It seemed like the economic sanctions had become the new norm, as hotels, bars and restaurants in Antalya suffered.
Everyone and anyone working in the industry wrote the year off, as Turkey also suffered heavily from a state of terrorist attacks including one on the main Istanbul Ataturk airport. Speculation said the golden days of tourism were over, and workers started looking towards other industries for an income.
Yet hope was on the horizon when in June 2016, Russia and Turkey were back on speaking terms. Eventually economic sanctions were lifted, flights resumed, and Russia travel agents started selling package holidays again. Optimism was high as the summer season of 2017 came around and Putin verified that relationships had resumed. Results so far haven’t disappointed.
In 2016, just 6.4 million tourists visited Antalya, yet by the first eight months of 2017, this number had increased to 7.5 million, with 2.6 million of them being Russians, taking up a massive 33% of the market.
In August, Russian arrivals had increased 50% year on year. Hotel occupancy rates rebounded, and the bars, restaurants and shops were full once again. Experts predict that by the time 2017 ends, 5 million Russians would have visited Antalya, the second most popular holiday destination in the country. Real estate sales to foreigners also rebounded with Russians buying 129 properties in September alone, and 95 houses in August.
An intense investigation by Turkish authorities has also seen a number of terrorists arrested and a drop-in attacks, easing security and safety concerns by Russians and other nationalities. The word in the industry is that Turkey tourism and foreign real estate sales could return to 2014’s record breaking figures.
This is no doubt pleasing to the Turkish government that by 2023, wants to be one of the top three economies in the world as well as one of the top ten most visited destinations on the globe. As the 2017 tourism season draws to a close, industry workers and insiders are decidedly more optimistic than they were this time last year.