Turkey’s Rampant Tourism Growth Slowed by Political Unrest
A Macedonian couple (C) takes souvenir pictures as they visit the Byzantine monument of Hagia Sophia or Ayasofya, now a museum, in Istanbul May 25, 2011. Murad Sezer / Reuters
Visitor numbers continue to grow, at around 5 percent, despite the political unrest suggesting that while Turkey’s economic boost from tourism might not be as explosive as first expected, it’s still helping the economy rebound.
Visitor arrivals to Turkey rose at the slowest pace in seven months in June when weeks of anti-government protests shook major cities, although tourism in the country’s coastal resorts was much less severely affected.
After double-digit growth in April and May, visitor arrivals in June rose by just 4.93 percent from a year earlier, data showed on Thursday, the lowest rise since November. That indicates some negative impact on Turkey’s already slowing economy, although the unrest has since eased.
Tourism revenues constitute one of the most important items that help finance Turkey’s current account deficit, its main economic weakness. According to central bank data, tourism revenue stood at $22.8 billion in the 12 months to the end of May while the current account deficit was at $53.6 billion.
The government forecasts economic growth of 4 percent this year, up from 2.2 percent last year, but less than half the rate of growth in 2011 and Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek said on Wednesday that he saw risks to the country’s growth outlook.
Tourism rose by nearly 18 percent in May from a year earlier and by 13 percent in April. Slower growth in June meant Turkey drew only 4.07 million visitors, the data from the tourism ministry showed.
Riot police fired tear gas and water cannon against demonstrators, some of them throwing stones, night after night in June after a peaceful protest against plans to redevelop an Istanbul square spiraled into an unprecedented show of defiance against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s government.
Istanbul was the hardest hit with its central Taksim square, lined by hotels, the epicenter of the unrest. Aegean and Mediterranean coastal resorts and other popular destinations, however, were largely unaffected by protests.
Arrivals to Antalya on the Mediterranean coast rose around 8 percent in June from a year earlier against a rise of just 2 percent for Istanbul.
Tourism this year has improved from last year when the number of foreign visitors to Turkey rose 1.04 percent to 31.78 million people.
Reporting by Seda Sezer. Writing by Nick Tattersall. Editing by Susan Fenton.
Copyright (2013) Thomson Reuters.