Türkiye: Tourism Set To Boom In The Face Of Adversity

The challenges that Türkiye faced following the catastrophic earthquake in the Southeast of the country in February, with the backdrop of a struggling economy, contrast strongly with the success story of its tourism recovery over the last year and the financial health of its largest airline.  The Ministry of Culture and Tourism Türkiye reported an increase of 71.1 percent in tourist arrivals to 51.4 million in 2022 , and Turkish Airlines recently reported their highest ever Q1 revenues.

Key Markets Bounce Back

The Turkish domestic aviation market has led the recovery, with capacity bouncing back quickly after the initial drop as the impact of the pandemic in April and May 2020 was felt, and recovering to 2019 levels by Q3 2021.  Western Europe remains the biggest international market, growing from summer 2021 to exceed pre-pandemic levels in Summer 2022. The Middle East and North America have also grown steadily - the latter off a low base - to a new high in August 2022 and both started 2023 higher year-on-year.

As of May 2023, the domestic market has 4% more capacity than May 2019, Western Europe is running at 20% more capacity and the Middle East at 25% more capacity. North America, while still a relatively small market, has 63% more capacity than for the same month in 2019.

This year Germany remains Türkiye’s key international market, with one-way capacity in May exceeding a million seats, 26% higher than in May 2019. With growth of 35% in May 2023 compared to May 2019, the UK is now Türkey’s second-largest market in terms of scheduled airline capacity, just ahead of Russia which has seen capacity volumes to Türkey fall by 19% over the same period. 

Other growth markets are the UAE which has seen capacity more than double, and the USA which has 63% more seats now than 4 years ago.

Exchange Rates Contribute To Popularity Of Türkiye For Tourists

Türkiye has long been viewed as a meeting point between Europe and Asia. As a tourist destination it offers thousands of years of history and tradition, is home to iconic landmarks such as the Hagia Sophia and the Grand Bazaar, and has spectacular natural scenery, friendly locals, and a melting pot of cultures.  Before the pandemic, Türkiye’s economy was highly reliant on international tourism so its recovery is critical to both the economy and jobs. It’s good that tourists have returned but can we account for the strength of that recovery? 

Determined to capitalize on the rising worldwide travel demand and people’s eagerness to see new places after the pandemic, the Interior Ministry of Türkiye announced the removal of travel restrictions on the 8th of June 2022, ahead of many tourist destinations.  Travelers no longer need to provide confirmation of coronavirus vaccination, proof of recovery from sickness, or a negative PCR test result to enter Türkiye.  

At the same time, the country went through an official rebrand from Turkey to Türkiye; "Türkiye is the best representation and expression of the Turkish people's culture, civilization, and values," Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the BBC in December.  

The weak lira cannot be overlooked as a factor in the return of tourism, it has helped Türkiye become a more competitive tourist destination, as there has been an accelerated decline in value across the currencies of all its top 10 markets in 2022.

Airport And Airline Capacity Has Increased In 2022

Another key factor is the significant increase in capacity in the market. Istanbul’s new hub airport officially opened in April 2019 and has become the city's main international gateway. Istanbul Airport is still being expanded and, by 2025, is set to become the world's largest airport by passenger capacity, with the capability to handle 200 million travelers per year, according to the airport. Last year the new Istanbul airport jumped nine spots from number 17 in 2021 to number 8 in Skytrax best airport rankings in 2022.

Meanwhile, Turkish Airlines’ international capacity to/from Türkiye is up by 16% compared to May 2019.  First quarter revenues reached US$4.4 billion, up 43% year-on-year, and the airline made a net profit of US$233 million, the 7th consecutive profitable quarter. Such profits will go some way to paying for the 72 aircraft that Turkish Airlines has on order: 49 A320’s, 14 A350’s and 9 Dreamliners. The airline expansion plans go far beyond this, though, with the strategy target for 2033 stating that the airline aims to have over 800 aircraft by then, more than double the number operating today. The carrier invested a huge $2.8 billion in 2022, primarily on new aircraft and engines, and has set aside an even larger figure of $3.8 billion for similar investments in 2023.  To back up its growth plans, the airline launched impressive advertising campaigns in the US and UK in 2022 and won Skytrax best carrier in Europe.  

Turkish carriers are providing over three-quarters of all international capacity to/from Türkiye with Turkish Airlines representing almost half of all international capacity alone.  Although a smaller player, easyJet also increased its capacity by a notable 146% relative to May 2019, suggesting a focus on the Turkish market.

Emerging Tourism Segments

Destination also plays its part; both Istanbul airports (Istanbul and Sabiha Gokcen) represented 40% of international traffic in the peak season 2022 (OAG Traffic Analyser Q3 2022). Istanbul is the key destination for the growing markets of the Middle East, USA and France. Popular not only for its attractions but its cuisine, The Michelin Guide recognizes it at the forefront of gastronomy tourism.  In a slightly more niche market, Türkiye and particularly Istanbul, has also become famous for affordable high quality hair transplant operations and one of the top 10 destinations for both dental needs and performing the most popular aesthetic surgeries.  Whilst the beautiful coastline and beaches of Antalya, Izmir and Dalaman were always popular with German, British and Swiss tourists, the desire to holiday in the outdoors, away from crowds has given a boost to Türkiye’s tourism.

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Prospects For 2023

Prospects for the Turkish tourism industry looked positive before the devastating earthquake. Capacity in January 2023 was up 25% overall on the previous year and there was every indication that international tourism would continue to grow through the year.  Looking ahead to the peak summer period, Q3 capacity is up 17% on last year and given that the recovery was more progressed by last summer than at the start of 2022, it might appear that Turkey’s tourism sector remains buoyant.

While the Turkish authorities have rightly been busy dealing with the aftermath of the earthquake, it’s good to know that the tourism industry has continued to recover. The income from tourism will continue to help the country as it rebuilds, and fears that the earthquake would put visitors off seem to have not materialized. The country is currently undergoing a Presidential election contest and while that may bring political changes there seems little that can change the winning combination of quantity, quality and value which is attracting more tourists to Türkiye in 2023.


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