by Burak Akinci
ANKARA, Jan. 18 (Xinhua) -- Tourism in Turkey rebounded in 2021, injecting hard cash in the vulnerable economy and offering hope for industry professionals counting on flourishing bookings for 2022.
"I predict that tourism will bounce back ... and the V-shaped recovery we saw this year will continue in 2022," Turkish Culture and Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy told state-run Anadolu Agency recently.
"We managed to achieve our ambitious and challenging target this year (2021) with doubling our tourism revenue to 24 billion U.S. dollars," the minister said, noting that the country wants to overtake pre-pandemic revenues in 2022.
The year of 2019 was the best ever when Turkey welcomed 51.7 million foreign tourists with revenues amounting to 34.5 billion dollars.
However, in 2020, with most of the world impacted by COVID-19, Turkey generated 12.6 billion dollars tourism revenues -- a 65.1 percent year-on-year decline, according to official data.
The latest figures from the Tourism Ministry showed that the country welcomed 22.8 million foreign visitors in January to November 2021, up 89.6 percent from the same period last year.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is targetting 35 billion dollars in tourism revenue in 2022, stressing that hard cash coming from the industry has helped Turkey weather economic woes last year.
Turkey's finances have been strained by a sharp currency decline in 2021, therefore tourism revenues, accounting for over 10 percent of GDP, are vital for the country's reserves and growing current account deficit.
In a travel agency specialized in foreign bookings in Ankara, tour operator Esra Kilic said that early bookings have significantly increased so far this year.
The bookings are not only for the myriad of southern Mediterranean resorts, the heart of Turkish tourism, but also for Central Anatolia and cruisers, Kilic told Xinhua.
She explained that besides Russian and German nationals who are no strangers to Turkish coastal resorts, Britons are also interested to travel to Turkey over summer, which runs from May to October.
"The feedback we are receiving from our British partners highlights strong levels of forward bookings for summer 2022, supported by an increased number of flights between the two countries this year," she said.
The industry expected around 10 million early reservations for 2022, Chairperson of the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies Firuz Baglikaya said in late December.
Representatives of the Turkish cruise sector are also expecting a boom in 2022, forecasting over 1 million tourists, after major companies re-added Turkish ports to their routes following the opening of Galataport, a cruise-ship port in the center of Istanbul, the country's largest city and cultural hub.
"Istanbul is one of the most important cruise destinations in the world. We are looking forward to seeing cruise liners in Istanbul," Burak Caliskan, the local manager of MSC Cruises, was quoted by the Turkish press as saying.
Besides cruises, gastronomy and medical tourism, Turkey is trying to diversify its travel industry with additional subcategories.
Ersoy said last week in a televised interview that Turkey is seeking to make inroads in Europe's growing tourism cycling industry.
"The income from bicycle tourism in the world is incredibly high. A total of 44 billion euros (50.2 billion dollars) is a very serious figure, and we have a chance to get a 10 percent share from this," said the minister.
The Southern Mediterranean province of Antalya, dubbed Turkey's tourism capital, already hosts international sport teams every year, especially football, and bicycle clubs may join them, Recep Samil Yasacan, chairman of Sports Tourism Association, told Xinhua.
"Our goal is 5 billion euros by 2023 with bicycle sport," Yasacan said, hoping cycling could grow its share in the tourism economy.