Foreign tourists are flocking to Turkey again, some 42 million visitors is expected to arrive this year, an increase of 12 million from 2021. But as Turkey’s tourism sector rebounds from the COVID-19 pandemic, Turks themselves are stuck at home. With a weakened currency and runaway inflation, the summer for many Turkish citizens has already been cancelled.
Since the start of 2022, the lira has lost 22% of its value against the dollar, while inflation has reached an annual average of 73%. It was not until the time of World War II that inflation rose faster in modern Turkey. Turkey’s economic malaise is so deep that Confederation of Turkish Trade Unions recently raised the poverty line to 19,602 lira per month, from 13,348 lira last December. The government’s low interest rate policy has only worsened the crisis.
The Turks watch helplessly as their incomes melt away. It’s the first summer since 2020 that pandemic restrictions have been lifted, but most Turks can barely afford their basic needs let alone travel. A June 2022 survey by public opinion firm Istanbul Economy Research found that out of 1,500 Turks surveyed, 65% said they would not take a summer vacation due to tight budgets.
Prices are always high in Turkey’s tourist hotspots during the summer months as hotel and restaurant owners seek to earn as much revenue as possible during the peak travel season. But this year’s seasonal price increases have hit an all-time high as rates are adjusted to the dollar and homeowners look to cash in.
The cost of a single night in a five-star hotel such as the Mandarin Oriental Bodrum is over 25,000 lira, or $1,440. Four Seasons Istanbul Bosphorus, one of the city‘s upscale properties, charges 17,000 lira per night. Before the pandemic, Turkish luxury was still expensive but not the exclusive domain of foreigners that it is now.
Today, locals have fewer travel options than ever; budgetary alternatives are almost non-existent. Pressure is even exerted on recreational areas, such as free public beaches. The average entrance fee to a beach club in Cesme, a popular upmarket resort west of Izmir, starts at 750 lira and includes just an umbrella and a deckchair. After that, the options quickly dwindle, as most of the beaches in the popular Bodrum and Cesme areas are leased by the government to private establishments.
Public beaches are also rare. Earlier this month, Princess Cove, one of the only free public beaches in the coastal region of Bodrum, has been closed for the season without notice. Authorities say the beach was recently gazetted for conservation, but many residents fear that due to its prime location next to the popular and private Xuma Beach, it’s only a matter of time. before the beach was privatized and zoned for construction.
Tourism prices are also skyrocketing inland. Renting an RV for overnight adventures, for example, is 50%. more expensive this summer than last year. Inan Ekici, head of the All Car Rental Organizations Association, estimates that with high fuel prices this year and more expensive foodstuffs, a week’s car holiday for a family of four would cost around 30,000 lira. But as expensive as it is, it is still much cheaper to stay in a motorhome than in a hotel. The Turkish Statistical Institute reports that the average cost of a hotel room per person per night has skyrocketed 221% from a year ago.
To be fair, vacation property owners have no choice but to raise their prices, just to keep pace with inflation. Compared to last summer, the cost of food and energy has jumped 81%, according to the consumer price index, and running a hotel is now 108% more expensive than it was last year. In December 2021, the borrowing debt held by the hotel sector exceeded $15 billion. The income from the summer season is essential to repay the loans.
The economic policy of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. promote production, employment and exports, depends on tourism revenue. But the tourists the government attracts are those with deep pockets and non-Turkish passports. Even during the pandemic, leaders have made it easier for tourists to visit the country, trading public safety for tourism revenue.
With colossal sums at stake, the country earned $24.5 billion of the tourism sector in 2021, ten percent of the economy, it is easy to see why tourism is considered an economic panacea. But taking the Turks out of their own country will almost certainly backfire. The quality of life is already declining in Turkey. Making it economically impossible to enjoy even national holidays could have political consequences. Everyone needs a break sometimes, even if that break is in the garden.