Three Iranian holidays that fall in the last two weeks of March mark vacation time for many Iranians. The private sector goes on holiday and government offices operate on a reduced schedule with fewer employees. Many Iranians prefer Turkey for their holidays abroad, and it was common for many Iranians to spend the day of Nevruz, a celebration of the beginning of spring throughout the region, in the province of Antalya. However, the depreciation of the Iranian riyal against the American dollar due to political tensions has negatively affected the hoteliers who had reserved rooms for the customers they expected to host for the typical March boom.
The riyal lost value, going from 1,300 riyal against a dollar before the sanctions to 2,200 riyal since, making vacation expenses 40 percent higher. In addition, the Iranian state’s limitations on the amount of money that can be taken abroad decreases the chances Iranian tourists will come to Turkey. Last year, the number of Iranian tourists during the Nevruz holiday was 60,000, but this figure dropped to below the 20,000 in 2012. Bilban Tourism General Manager Gönül Bilban told Today’s Zaman they had a great Nevruz season last year, with Antalya half-filled with Iranian tourists who are now missing from the city. Turkish Airlines has also not been able to operate direct flights between Iran and Antalya since 2005 due to political reasons, but ways around this were found, such as by directing customers to nearby cities to land, then transferring them to flights to Antalya.
Noting the negative effects of US sanctions on Iran’s economy, such as the devaluation of the country’s currency, Bilban said, “We brought 17,000 tourists in last year, but we won’t be able to reach these numbers in 2012.” She explained that “due to the sanctions, neither domestic nor foreign currency can be transferred out of Iran.” Bilban added that a rise in accommodation costs have also effected the decline in tourist numbers.
Rixos Sungate Hotel General Manager Cem Uzan underlined impeded access to the dollar in Iran, which can prevent Iranians from traveling abroad as items and services in other countries cannot be purchased with the riyal due to sanctions on the use of the currency abroad. “Even though Iranians have money … they are not able to trade it in international markets,” Uzan said. As Western banks cannot conduct business with Iranian banks due to the sanctions, the move continues to hurt Iran’s economy and industries in addition to preventing its citizens from receiving money from their relatives or friends living abroad. Pamfilya Tourism Antalya Regional Manager Cihan Çelebi told Today’s Zaman that “tourist numbers [to Antalya from Iran] in 2012 will be one-third those of the previous year. We expect 15,000-20,000 Iranians this year.” He explained that the Iranian contribution to Antalya’s economy is very high because Iranian tourists have decent incomes and spend money shopping. Particularly small businesses in Antalya will be majorly affected by the decline, as last year’s Iranian tourists had provided them with relief from a slow tourist season.
Even though Turkey has no plans to cut its import of Iranian oil despite rising pressure from international sanctions, traders say they expect signals from both Ankara and Beijing to negotiate lower prices for Iranian oil. Experts also suggest both Turkey and Iran should implement a barter system in the future in which Turkey would supply Iran with goods that are under embargo by Western countries in return for natural gas. Such a solution would benefit both countries as it would help Iran cope with the sanctions as well as help Turkey with its current account deficit (CAD).