by Burak Akinci
ANKARA, Sept. 21 (Xinhua) -- Türkiye is extending its tourism season into the fall as robust trends in overseas arrivals in the summer have put a smile on the face of a vast industry crucial for the country's revenues.
Despite a difficult start because of devastating earthquakes in southern Türkiye in February which have disrupted early bookings, strong foreign arrivals have made up for the unexpected shortfall.
Türkiye hosted 26.76 million foreign tourists in the first seven months of 2023, official figures revealed in late July.
The number of foreign arrivals in January-July rose 16 percent on a yearly basis compared to 2022, the Culture and Tourism Ministry said.
In July alone, Türkiye welcomed a remarkable 7.1 million foreign visitors in one month, the best record for the month of July, Treasury and Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek said in August on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
Türkiye's culture hub Istanbul and southern Mediterranean tourism hotspot Antalya are the two first provinces hosting the most foreign travellers.
This year's momentum has been driven by an influx of holidaymakers from Germany and the United Kingdom, besides arrivals from Russia despite the crisis with Ukraine.
More than 10 million foreign tourists have arrived by air in Antalya so far this year. The number of foreign visitors between Jan. 1 and Aug. 22 increased by 20 percent compared with the same period a year earlier, according to the provincial directorate of culture and tourism.
Industry representatives said that this year the tourism season started late as the warm weather came later than usual and is expected to last longer, hence the extension of the season until nearly the end of 2023.
"The usual volume of reservations that used to end in September has been prolonged to October and beyond. This season has started late and is anticipated to last longer," Murat Toktas, vice president of the Turkish Hoteliers Federation, told Xinhua.
The industry veteran said he is confident that with continued arrivals, Türkiye is set to reach its targets of 60 million foreign visitors and 56 billion U.S. dollars in income for 2023. The country welcomed approximately 52 million visitors in 2022.
The weak Turkish currency has also made the major tourism destination relatively cheap for European travelers.
Esra Bilir, a tour operator from the capital city Ankara, confirmed the positive trend for the year.
"Usually our bookings end in September but this year we have strong reservations for October and even November from Western and North European countries," she told Xinhua, pointing to warmer-than-usual weather in southern Türkiye.
Germany, Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, and the Scandinavian countries will be the major markets on the industry's radar this fall, Bilir said.
The country's current account deficit is expected to shrink significantly from a 12-month rolling deficit of 56 billion dollars in June to around 40 billion in December, thanks to a slowdown in consumer loan growth and a sharp rise in tourism revenues, finance minister Simsek has said.
Tourism is a vital source of revenue for Türkiye, contributing about 10 percent to Türkiye's gross domestic product GDP and employing about 5 percent of all workforce in the country.
Toktas also said hopes are running high among Turkish tourism companies that the country may finally lure more tourists from China after the country resumed outbound group tours this February.
Before the pandemic, Türkiye welcomed 426,000 Chinese tourists in 2019 to Istanbul, Cappadocia, and Pamukkale, tourist hotspots located in western and central Türkiye, Toktas pointed out.
"We have welcomed this year in the first six months 86,000 Chinese travelers, and we are actively engaged in promotion activities in China. We aim in 2024 to reach pre-pandemic figures at first and then 1 million Chinese visitors in 2025," he said.
Chinese tourists are big spenders and are very much interested in cultural tours rather than the traditional sun, sea, and beach combo, the industry professional added.