“Turkey Unlimited. Now available without Turks,” reads a satirical tourism advert on social media.
The tweet is referring to the hordes of foreign visitors exploring Turkey’s streets, which are currently empty, thanks to a new coronavirus lockdown.
A surge in the number of covid-19 cases prompted the government to enact yet another lockdown, this time for two-and-a-half weeks, in an attempt to get spiralling case numbers under control before the start of the summer season.
But foreign visitors are exempt. While those arriving in Turkey must show proof of their covid-negative status, the image of tourists partying at the country’s nightclubs or lounging on the beach have annoyed locals.
“This is a great time for the tourists now, because Turks can’t go out,” said one tourist guide.
However, he did not add his voice to the frustrated complaints of his fellow citizens. “This is the way it has to be. The tourists have made payments and reservations. Tourism is important for Turkey and the wheels of the economy have to keep turning.”
Last year, tourist income plummeted by two-thirds, as the pandemic slammed the brakes on an industry which makes up 12% of the economy.
While tourist organisations welcome the visitors, there’s not enough to keep everyone busy and employed.
For example: Istanbul tourist stalwart Topkapi Palace usually has about 15,000 daily visitors. At the moment, just 1000 people are queuing up to enter the doors of the spectacular Ottoman attraction.
Nearby at the Blue Mosque, queues were also thinner than usual, and tourists had mixed feelings about their visits, as Turkey battles its new wave of covid infections.
“The fact is, tourists spend money,” a tourist from the United Kingdom said. “All these places depend on tourists. If they weren’t here, everything would shut down.
“But it’s not good for tourists either. In covid situations you should ban tourists too. If you lock down, you have to lock down proper.”
Lockdown sends covid cases dropping
Around the huge city of Istanbul, police have set up checkpoints to ensure people driving through the city have permission to be out. Movements are heavily restricted, with only key workers — those involved in industrial production and essential services — are allowed to go to work.
Frustration at the restrictions has been voiced on social media, and the images of tourists enjoying themselves while locals are cooped up at home rankles.
But the lockdown is working, Reuters has reported. Yesterday, covid-19 cases fell below 20,000 for the first time since early March. That’s a drop of two-thirds in a couple of weeks, a promising sign that the tour guides, the restaurants and the many tourist attractions scattered around the country can look forward to welcoming visitors with the onset of the summer season.