Turkish hoteliers anxious for foreign-traveler return
Turkish hoteliers anxious for foreign-traveler return
19 AUGUST 2020 7:05 AM

Resumption of international flights might save a part of the season for Turkish hoteliers, who said they have never seen their hotels as empty as they are this year.

ISTANBUL—The Turkish hospitality industry is showing some initial signs of optimism following a severe hiatus brought about by the COVID-19 outbreak, according to sources, who are buoyed by government initiatives and the resumption of international flights.

Many resorts have had to move away from the traditional, all-inclusive format to adhere to social-distancing rules, hoteliers added.

Hotel occupancy in the first six months of the year was 33.4%, down 47.3% from the same period last year, the Turkish Hotel Association, known as TÜROB in its Turkish initials, said in a statement.

For June, overall occupancy was 21.2%, while in its most popular destination, Istanbul, that metric was 37.2% and in the Mediterranean resort city of Antalya, 32.5%.

The country’s tourism revenues hit $34.5 billion in 2019, a record high, according to Culture & Tourism Ministry data, and a 17% year-over-year jump.

Ranked the sixth-most-popular tourist destination in the world, Turkey welcomed 4.5 million foreign visitors in the first half of 2020, down 75% from 2019 and the lowest figure in decades. In 2019, the country attracted 51 million foreign visitors.

Average revenue per available room for Turkey’s hotels was €19.20 ($22.80) the first six months of 2020, down 56% compared to the previous year, while average daily rate dropped 16.6% to €57.70 ($68.50), according to tourism ministry data. For June only, RevPAR was €11.50 ($13.65) and ADR was €54.40 ($64.59).

Sources said these figures could be far worse.

In the absence of foreign visitors, many hoteliers have chosen not to open their doors, or open them later in the season.

“We were planning to have a very good summer season,” U─čur Ecel, room division manager at Antalya-based Vonresort Hotels, said. “After lockdown … we began following the news about international flight restrictions. We delayed our opening many times, and finally, we opened our hotels in the first week of July. We kept July occupancy approximately at 30%.”

Mohammed Abukaraki, director of sales and marketing at Radisson Blu Hotel Vadistanbul, said his hotel “lost approximately 74% to 80% of the business” after the pandemic hit.

“It started picking up from 1 July, but travelers are still scared and careful when it comes to travel. We had a drop in tariffs between 15% and 20%,” he said.

Abukaraki said he reopened the hotel 1 June.

Istanbul is the center of the pandemic in Turkey, sources said, although it has enjoyed a slight pickup in domestic demand, according to Tarek Mourad, GM of Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts Turkey.

“Focusing on the local market, we started experiencing a humble business pickup, yet the pace was encouraging as it was on an upwards direction,” he said.

The country’s second most popular tourism destination, the western and southern coast, including Antalya, is dependent on Germany and Russian-language countries.

Government help
Starting on 10 July, the Turkish government offers tourists refunds if they are unfortunate enough to catch COVID-19 while in the country, part of its Tourist Protection Health Insurance program.

Sources said such initiatives are allowing optimism to slowly creep back into the Turkish hospitality industry.

Ugur Talayhan, regional vice president of Accor Hotels Turkey and GM of the Swissôtel The Bosphorus, Istanbul, said “pessimism was spreading through the industry in March, April and May.”

“However, the current mood is more optimistic, and the industry is slightly recovering,” he said. “First reactions of the domestic market and some feeder markets such as Commonwealth of Independent States and the Middle East are signaling some hope and light at the end of the tunnel.”

His peer, Rufat Babayev, GM of the Grand Hyatt Istanbul, said “we do expect some recovery in the second half of the year, as many flight connections have been restored.”

Flights between Turkey and Russia were relaunched on 1 August. Some Russians managed to get to Turkish resorts via Belarus, despite a clear prohibition to undertake tourist trips from the Russian government.

Turkey also hopes to restore aviation connections with Europe later this month.

Talayhan said there is no doubt the rest of 2020 will remain challenging and hotel performance will be far below previous years.

Local markets and some new, growing markets such as Ukraine and Azerbaijan, and European Union citizens with Turkish roots are helping to create some base occupancy during summer, he added.

Mourad said the current atmosphere in the Turkish hospitality industry is “the exact opposite of pessimistic when domestic macroeconomics logistics and dynamics are evaluated.”

“We forecast 2021 to be 20% to 30 % less than the good year of 2019. Hence, we foresee business built up from now until the end of the year to bridge the gap,” he said.

Sources said it is a little too early to fully determine the impact of COVID-19 on the country’s investment attractiveness.

Earlier this year, Hyatt Hotels Corporation announced plans to open in 2021 a 161-room Hyatt Regency, but Babayev said he had no information on whether that plan was still in place.

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