Despite being the country with the largest number of confirmed coronavirus infections among all OIC countries, Turkey has shown tremendous improvements in its ability to contain the pandemic. Currently, the government is preparing to launch an internationally-recognised certification programme to revive its crucial, hit-hard tourism industry. Turkey’s minister of Culture and Tourism, Mehmet Nuri Ersoy, said in a press release: “The programme shall ensure that our guests in Turkey are going to make their holidays safely and hygienically and feel comfortable during their visit.”
Tourism has been one of the main sources of foreign currency reserves that Turkey has needed to control inflation rates. It contributed over 12% of the countries GDP in 2018 when approximately 46 million tourists visited the country. The sector grew at a steady rate over the years as the government continuously develop modern infrastructure. Although the number of tourist arrivals declined by 23% in 2016 after a series of terrorist attacks, it went back to normal immediately in the following year.
The ability to quickly adapt to new conditions, without compromising the priorities and fundamentals of certain circumstances, is a special attribute of individuals, organisations and governments. The COVID-19 highly contagious disease is one of those challenges that could redefine social norms and restructure economies. Turkey has been one of the world’s 10 worst-hit countries by the novel coronavirus outbreak, and it had the largest number of confirmed infections among the 57 OIC member countries.
Things escalated quite fast in the West Asian nations with the first 1,000 cases reported within ten days after the first COVID-19 was confirmed on 11 March, the day the outbreak was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation. Starting 26 March, Turkey reported over 1,000 cases daily with the highest figure of 5,138 infections was recorded on 11 April 2020. A month later, on 11 May, there were about 140,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Turkey. But by then the number of daily cases has been reduced significantly while the recovery rate was over 68.5%.
According to a statement by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the new certification programme covers preventive and protective steps including air, marine and land transportation, arrival ports, all facilities providing a holiday experience, health condition of employees in the industry, and tourists themselves. Under the programme, passengers must wear masks all the time, and be screened for fevers before they board planes and regularly at the sites they visit. Tourism workers will be given hygiene training and equipment, and be subject to regular screening.
Hotels and restaurants will be able to apply for the certificate on the ministry’s website. They have to abide by a total of 103 safety measures during the summer season. For example, in eating areas, tables should be at least 1.5 meters apart from each other, while the distance between chairs must be at least 60 centimetres, according to the new rules. At hotels, while guests can enjoy all types of food, it will no longer be offered in a buffet. Instead, it will be displayed behind a glass to be served by personnel upon request.
Commenting on recovery trends in upcoming months, the Head of Turkey's Professional Hotel Managers Association, Ülkay Atmaca, said the industry could begin seeing mobility during the Eid al-Fitr holiday at the end of May. While Turkey is taking a high risk in implementing this programme, the country could reap huge benefits should the programme succeed to reassure tourists about visiting the country. Turkey also offers a great opportunity to other tourism-oriented economies to learn from its experience on how to adjust their services.