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Türkiye primed to make tourism strides thanks to commitment to diversification

Famed for its rich cultural heritage, stunning landscapes, idyllic beaches, crystal-clear turquoise seas, and tasty Turkish cuisine, Türkiye is expected to make even more strides in tourism in the days ahead thanks to its commitment to diversification.

Türkiye’s international tourism arrivals shot up over the last two years, with the lifting or easing of COVID-related travel restrictions around the world. The country welcomed 49.2 million foreign tourists in 2023, beating its pre-virus level by 9.3%, according to the Culture and Tourism Ministry.

Speaking exclusively to Anadolu, Zurab Pololikashvili, the secretary-general of UN Tourism, the UN agency which promotes responsible, sustainable, and universally accessible tourism, stressed: “We expect Türkiye tourism to continue to go from strength-to-strength this year and for years to come.”

Beside growing in size, the Turkish tourism sector is growing more and more diverse, with many visitors coming for the country’s culture, cuisine, health services, faith-based sites, sea, rural tourism, and more, Pololikashvili explained.

“This committed shift to diversification is to be commented on as it will not only build resilience against future shocks but also ensures that the benefits tourism brings, including jobs and economic growth, are spread more widely across Türkiye, including in rural areas,” he added.

Citing UN Tourism data, he stressed that Türkiye ranked sixth in international tourism arrivals in 2019 and fourth in 2021, showing a clear upward trend.

Julia Simpson, head of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), underlined that Türkiye’s travel and tourism sector has fully recovered across the four key metrics: economic contribution, jobs, and domestic visitor and international visitor spending.

By 2033, the council “is forecasting that the sector will grow its GDP contribution to almost 2.2 trillion liras (nearly $73 billion) and employ over 3.3 million people across the country,” Simpson noted.

According to the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat), Türkiye’s tourism income in 2023 surged 16.9% year-on-year to total $54.3 billion.

Firuz Baglikaya, head of the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TURSAB), underlined that in a hopeful sign for Turkish tourism, overseas demand for early bookings for 2024 is remaining high.

Touching on geopolitical tensions, Baglikaya said the revival in demand in the post-pandemic period due to pent-up longing for holiday and travel has helped curb the impact of regional tensions.

On Wednesday, Treasury and Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek said Türkiye posted the best performance ever in tourism last year.

The government’s medium-term economic program seeks to generate $59.6 billion in tourism income and to attract 59.6 million visitors, including Turkish citizens living abroad.

“Our goal for 2028 is to reach tourism income of $100 billion with 82.3 million visitors,” Simsek said.

World tourism

Pololikashvili reiterated that the rapid and remarkable bounce back from the pandemic is expected to continue this year, to return to its pre-virus levels.

“According to our data, international tourist arrivals hit 88% of pre-pandemic, or 2019, levels at the end of 2023. Now this momentum will continue throughout the year and we should see 100% recovery globally,” he added.

According to the latest World Tourism Barometer, international tourist arrivals reached 1.3 billion last year.

“What’s more, several destinations and sub-regions are already welcoming more tourists than they did before the pandemic, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, as well as Central America, Southern Mediterranean Europe, and the Caribbean,” he noted.

Simpson said tourism will be supported by a strong travel demand this year despite a surging cost of living.

“Despite inflation, people are keen to travel and are prioritizing holidays over other spending. This shows the resilience and determination of travelers, businesses, and governments,” she commented.

Simpson pointed to the resilience of the travel and tourism sector amid both geopolitical challenges and natural disasters.