Antalya (Turkey) (AFP) – With its shimmering azure waters, secluded coves and golden sandy beaches, Turkey’s Mediterranean coast is a popular destination for Russian tourists, who visited nearly five million last year.
But many visitors currently holidaying in the region fear they won’t be able to return home because of the extensive Western sanctions against Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.
Restrictions on card payments and flight operations have also raised fears of a slump in Russian tourism to Turkey, a major source of income for Ankara.
Holidaymaker Margarita Sabatnikaya, 31, says her holiday plans have been called into question and she fears being stranded.
“We came here to vacation with our children. It is unclear when we will return to Russia and on which plane,” she said.
Sabatnikaya said she wanted to continue her vacation, but her bank cards stopped working.
“It’s unclear how to stay here and how to survive,” she said.
While national carrier Turkish Airlines says flights to and from Russia “will continue for the time being”, no-frills carrier Pegasus has suspended services, leaving its customers desperate to rebook elsewhere.
Dozens of Western countries have banned Russian planes from their skies, while some airlines operating flights to Russia have canceled their insurance policies.
Some Turkish tour operators have cited the impact of Western sanctions as they canceled their Russian customers’ plans.
US card giants MasterCard and Visa have ceased operations in Russia, although Russian cardholders can access their funds in Turkey through the Russian payments system Mir.
“We heard that the company that brought us here has suspended flights, but I’m not sure,” said Russian tourist Anton Gavrilov, 34.
“Of course I had some cash with me, but if I want to pay with my card I don’t know if I will be able to,” he added, after trading the frigid Moscow winter for Turkey‘s sun-kissed Mediterranean coast.
The damage done to Turkey’s important travel industry will depend on how long sanctions against Russia are enforced, industry experts say.
But there’s a chance Russians fleeing their homeland could make up some of the losses, they say.
“We expect that the impact of this crisis on tourism in Antalya will be very severe,” Anna Yigit, deputy general manager of a resort hotel in Antalya, told AFP.
“We are prepared, we have antibodies!”
Around 4.5 million Russian and two million Ukrainian tourists came to Turkey last year.
The government was hoping for a post-Covid recovery this year, with a target of nearly $35 billion in total tourism revenue, back to pre-pandemic levels.
“Russians were among the number one arrivals to Turkey before the pandemic, maybe this year Turkey was on its way to 10-15 million Russian tourists,” said Soner Cagaptay, a fellow at the Washington Institute.
All of this “will be lost if the sanctions are so severe that the Russian middle class cannot afford to travel to Turkey,” he said.
Turkey weathered a drought of Russian tourists before when Ankara shot down a Russian warplane over Syria in the first half of 2016.
In this conflict, Turkey has tried not to anger the Kremlin, despite the fact that Kyiv uses Turkish drones on the battlefield.
“I do not know what to do”
Vacationer Gavrilov said he fears this vacation will be his last as sanctions have caused the ruble to hit all-time lows against the dollar.
“It’s getting really hard to afford a family trip,” he said.
Hoteliers in Turkey’s resort towns have to guess how many Russian guests will cancel their bookings, although there hasn’t been a wave of cancellations yet.
Russian tourists who paid a deposit for vacation packages may not be able to afford to pay the difference now that the ruble has depreciated.
Western restrictions on flights to and from Russia have pushed up airfares for countries that continue to offer flights to Russia, such as Turkey.
Typical ticket prices have increased from 180 euros to 400 euros.
A Russian family told AFP they paid €900 for a one-way ticket from Russia to Antalya on a “low cost airline”.
Anastasia Zanolotnaya, 27, a diving instructor who has lived in Antalya for four years, said many Russians who came to Turkey for vacation are now stranded.
“I have two Russian friends who are staying with me right now. They can’t come back because (plane tickets) are very expensive,” she told AFP.
Ukrainian tourists are also affected.
“We came on vacation in early February, now (me and my family) can’t go back,” said Olga, who declined to give her last name.
“We should have returned two days after the war. no more flight We have some money now. We don’t know what to do.”
© 2022 AFP