According to the ministry’s figures, the downward trend observed in the first five months of the year was reversed in June when Turkey received nearly 3.9 million visitors from abroad. This figure was less than 3.8 million during the same month a year ago.
In the first half of the year, the country with the largest number of visitors to Turkey was Germany, though in June, it was Russia. There were nearly 2 million visitors from Germany to Turkey in the January-June period. Germany is Turkey’s largest trading partner and is also significant because there are nearly 3 million Euro-Turks living in the Western European country. Germany was followed by Russia with 1.43 million and the UK with 0.9 million visitors.
Among those who visited Turkey in the first half of the year, 33.2 percent entered the country via İstanbul -- the country’s business capital as well as an important tourist destination -- whereas another 30.6 percent entered Turkey through the resort province of Antalya in the south. The northwestern province of Edirne, where Turkey borders both Bulgaria and Greece, came in third with 8.7 percent of all the January-June visitors entering Turkey.
In June, there were 0.6 million visitors from Russia. Russia and Turkey mutually abolished visa requirements for each other’s citizens in April of last year, aiming to increase tourist traffic between the countries. In the sixth month, the country’s northeastern neighbor was followed by Germany with approximately 70,000 fewer people and by the UK with nearly 0.4 million visitors to Turkey.
Tourism revenue vital for Turkey
According to the Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat), more than 36 million foreign nationals visited Turkey last year. The figure was 33 million in 2010. TurkStat’s data also showed that the country earned 10.6 percent more revenue -- some $23 billion -- from tourists in 2011 compared to a year earlier when its tourism revenue was $20.8 billion. The figures suggest that each foreign visitor spent an average of $637 in the country in 2011, which is slightly up from 2010’s figure of $630.
Tourism revenue is extremely important for Turkey as its economy produces a large current account deficit (CAD) because of its heavy dependence on foreign energy and intermediate goods as it pursued swift growth, particularly in the past decade.
With the country’s focus on finding rich oil and natural gas reserves and advancing its industry requiring extensive R&D investment, the sum it earns each year from foreign visitors, therefore, is one of the few ways Turkey can effectively battle the CAD.
According to the Central Bank of Turkey, the national CAD dropped more than a quarter to $27 billion in the first five months of the year, indicating that the country has significantly improved its balance of payments as a result of appropriate fiscal and monetary policies at a time when its tourism revenue remained strong despite the ongoing economic crisis, particularly in Europe.
In the face of a quickly widening CAD last year, the central bank adopted an unconventional policy mix of lower interest rates and higher required reserve ratios to make Turkey less attractive for highly volatile, short-term international capital inflow while at the same time making it more difficult for consumers to take out loans from banks, in order to tame credit expansion throughout the year. The measures were coupled with government action taken late last year by the executive branch to substantially raise what is called the private consumption tax (ÖTV) on certain -- mostly imported -- products such as cars and cell phones.
Şaban Gündüz from Antalya contributed to this report.