Turkey may face EU snag as it prepares for delayed tourism season

Turkey may need to await joint European Union approval before it can begin welcoming tourists from Germany and the rest of the continent.

Turkey is readying its hotels for the start of the tourism season, delayed by the outbreak of COVID-19. Its government has quickly drawn up detailed hygiene measures that hotel owners must follow and says it will conduct tests for the virus at airports.

Germany, which ranked second after Russia last year for the number of tourists visiting Turkey, said this week that it would lift a ban on travel to EU countries on June 15, but would await recommendations from the European Commission before easing travel warnings on Turkey and other countries.

“We are working to ensure that travel warnings for third countries can also be lifted step-by-step in the coming weeks,” Thomas Bareiss, Germany's commissioner for tourism, told German media on Thursday. Germany was in talks with Turkey over measures that could make it possible for German tourists to return, he said.

Early approval for tourist travel within the European Union could put Turkey at a potential disadvantage compared with other traditional hotspots such as Greece, Italy and Spain, where hoteliers are accepting bookings.

Italy opened its borders on Wednesday and European Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said she wanted all EU states to agree on Friday the re-opening of all internal borders by the end of June.

Revenues from tourism are critical to rejuvenating Turkey’s economy, which was only just starting to recover from a currency crisis in 2018 before the coronavirus spread across the globe early this year. The country also needs hard cash to fund a deficit in its current account - any shortfall there could threaten recent gains for the lira, which has risen from a record low hit early last month.

While infections and deaths from COVID-19 in Turkey are declining, and are low compared with several EU countries, the government is keeping weekend curfews in place in major cities such as Istanbul and Izmir, popular arrival points for tourists. The lockdown remains as some local medical experts warn of a possible revival in infection rates. Turkey ranks ninth globally for infections.

Turkey’s relations with the European Union are also tenuous and could potentially affect how quickly Europe eases travel warnings on the country. This week, Greece made a latest complaint to the EU about Turkey’s plans to drill for hydrocarbons in the Mediterranean. Mediterranean countries including Greece, Italy, France and Spain, also issued a joint statement calling on Turkey, without naming it, to respect international laws.

Brussels has also found itself embroiled in disagreements with Turkey over refugees – the latter temporarily opened its land borders for migrant flows to Europe three months ago, ratcheting up political tensions with Greece and other EU member states. Ankara says it reserves the right to do so again despite an agreement with the EU that seeks to control the influx.

Senior officials of the European Commission include Greek politician Margaritis Schinas, who is vice-president representing the European way of life, and Stella Kyriakides, a Greek Cypriot official who is the commissioner responsible for health and food safety.

Initiatives by the Commission are either agreed on orally at weekly meetings or by written procedure, depending on their political importance.

Turkey’s income from tourism surged 17 percent to a record $34.5 billion in 2019. But revenue dropped by an annual 11 percent to $4.1 billion in the first quarter of this year. It reported its first case of COVID-19 on March 11.