The stats are in, and to the delight of many industry insiders, Russian tourists are returning to Turkey in droves. Visitors' stats dropped drastically in 2016 after the Russian government enforced a nine-month ban on charter holidays and flights.
The ban had a severe impact on hotels, bars, restaurants, and shops around Turkey but more so, in the Antalya region which has been a long time favorite destination of the Russians. As the sixth most visited destination in the world, the Turkish economy also relied heavily on tourism to bring in external revenue.
Russians had always been one of the top three visiting nationalities alongside the Germans and Brits and on their holidays spent lots of money on attractions, entertainment, and shopping. In the months that followed, Turkey lost billions of dollars in revenue as Russian tourists in Turkey dropped by a staggering 92%. Along with a series of other devastating events, which kept tourists away, industry insiders feared the glory days were over.
However, work was going on behind the scenes and following intense discussions, Russia lifted their charter holiday ban and tourism workers all over Turkey entered the 2017 summer season with an optimistic outlook. They were not disappointed when Russians flooded through the borders with eagerness to return to their favorite holiday destinations.
By July 2017, 1.1 million Russian tourists visited Antalya alone. The bonus was that Russian visitor stats exceeded the earlier record-breaking 2015 figures. As the summer 2017 Turkish tourism season ended, stats revealed 3.66 million Russians had visited the Antalya region alone, in the first ten months of the year. Experts predict that as 2017 ends, 5 million Russians would have visited destinations all over Turkey.
A statement by the Russian federal agency said Turkey continues to still be the number one holiday destination for Russians because of quality and price. They are expecting more Russians to travel to Turkey in 2018. To the relief of many, the glory days are back.
Russian Influences in Turkey for Tourists and Expats
The bond between Russia and Turkey is not new. For decades, close relations between the two countries have left their mark, and travelers touring the country can see their influence.
In Istanbul, the historical Çiçek Pasajı on İstiklal Avenue, named after Russian immigrants who sold flowers there in the early 20th century is a favorite eatery. In 2016, the Turkish government also said they would restore the 19th century San Stefano Russian Monument in Istanbul.
In the 1990s, Russians also influenced the Northeast of Turkey when travel restrictions lessened after the Soviet Union broke down. Masses of Russian people crossed the border and flooded to Trabzon to buy goods like chocolate, and leather at incredibly low prices. Taking them back to the newly formed independent Russian state to sell on, suitcase tourism became the new trend, and many locals of Trabzon survived purely on this trade.
Interested travelers in Turkish-Russian relations would also do well to look at Kars. For forty years, until 1918, Russians ruled Kars, sitting near the border with Armenian. Their influence is evident in the architecture of houses sitting in the old part of the town. Many of them have preservation status, and the central Fethiye mosque still has much of its former appearance as a Russian Orthodox church.
The original Kremlin Palace also inspired the hotel of the same name in Antalya. The owner’s eagerness for their clientele to experience an atmosphere reminiscent of the Russian czars shines through in the replicate architecture, décor and design.
Lastly, Turkey is also home to many Russian expats. Settling in all areas of the country, many tend to gravitate towards the Antalya region, where they quickly learn Turkish and integrate into society.
Indeed, Turkish Russian relations are about much more than tourism. As more of a long-standing love affair that has weathered times of turmoil and trouble, the country is looking forward to welcoming many more Russian tourists and expats to Turkey in 2018.