Turkey attracts only quarter of pre-pandemic levels of tourists in April

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Turkey welcomed 790,687 foreign visitors in April, down from a month earlier and only a quarter of the arrivals in 2019 before the pandemic hit, according to official data on Monday that suggested the tourism season may get off to a tough start.

A coronavirus spike last month and a flurry of foreign travel warnings have wiped out many early bookings and raised prospects of another lost season for Turkey, which relies on the cash inflow to fund its heavy foreign debt.

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April’s arrivals were still up sharply from a year ago when only 24,238 foreigners trickled in. Turkey began closing borders and restricting activity in March 2020 when it logged its first COVID-19 case.

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Compared to March of this year, when coronavirus curbs were briefly lifted, tourist numbers dipped 12 percent last month. In April 2019 nearly 3.3 million foreigners arrived.

While the government has predicted a rebound this year, slumping tourism has dimmed economic growth and exacerbated the current account deficit.

Russia -- Turkey’s top source of tourists, accounting for 20 percent in April -- last month suspended most flights until June and could extend the pandemic measure, prompting its airlines to halt most flights into the summer.

Some 2.1 million Russians came last year and 6 million in 2019 before the pandemic. In another blow, Britain, the third-biggest source of holiday-makers, has put Turkey on its travel ‘red list.’

Bora Kok, sales manager at Bora Bora Boutique Hotel in the southern Mediterranean coastal city of Antalya, said postponed flights “cause serious damage.”

Read more: Ghostly quiet as tourists stay away from Turkey’s magical Istanbul

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