ANKARA, May 11 (Xinhua) -- As summer is now around the corner, Turkey is experiencing a serious growth in the tourism sector as the depreciating currency lira is helping attract more foreign visitors, a much-needed relief for the struggling economy.
Turkey's tourism revenue totaled 4.63 billion U.S. dollars in the first quarter of 2019, the country's statistical authority announced on Tuesday.
The figures have been welcomed by the Turkish government who is trying to implement broad economic measures to recover the country from the recession since the end of 2018 after a currency meltdown last summer.
From January to March, quarterly tourism revenue surged 4.6 percent year on year, up from 4.42 billion dollars in the same period last year, Turkish Statistical Institute reported.
Turkey welcomed over 6.6 million visitors in the three-month period, an 8.5-percent rise on a yearly basis.
"We were initially thinking of going to Portugal or Spain but finally we chose Turkey because the early booking offer was of very good value," said French social worker Josiane Felaud in Side, a popular resort located on a long strip of golden beaches and ancient ruins called the "Turkish Riviera."
Felaud, who is vacationing with her husband and daughter, explained that it was nearly half the price of other destinations in the European Union (EU) because of the Turkish currency's depreciation against the euro.
The French visitor said she had convinced other relatives and acquaintances to visit Turkey during the course of the year as the summer season extends to October in the Mediterranean region.
British holiday makers are also choosing non-EU destinations for their summer breaks this year and Turkey has seen the biggest growth in demand, leapfrogging Greece to become this summer's second most popular package holiday destination, said major tour operator Thomas Cook.
There are also ongoing efforts to attract foreign visitors from the Asian-Pacific region, especially from China.
As the number of Chinese tourists visiting Turkey has been on the rise, Chinese airlines are resuming their flights to the country and new ones are entering the Turkish market.
Sichuan Airlines has begun flights from Chengdu, one homeland of pandas, to Istanbul on April 30.
When Sichuan Airlines' Airbus 330 entered Turkish airspace last week, Turkish music was played in the cabin and all the lights were turned off, the Turkish press reported.
The flight attendants, wearing veils, surprised the passengers with an oriental dance performance. A ceremony was held following the aircraft's landing at Istanbul Airport early in the morning, private Demiroren News Agency reported.
China Southern Airlines has resumed its flights from Beijing to Istanbul three times a week, a move which professionals view as a good opportunity for Turkish tourism.
Most Chinese passengers said they came to Turkey to visit Cappadocia, which is famous for its fairy chimneys and otherworldly atmosphere.
According to the Culture and Tourism Ministry, around 394,000 Chinese tourists came to Turkey in 2018, registering a 59-percent increase year on year.
Turkey's tourism sector is positioned as a strategic industry that could help reduce the country's current account deficit, particularly at a time when the Turkish lira has significantly depreciated about 40 percent since August 2018.
Turkey welcomed 39.5 million foreign visitors last year, a 21.8 percent increase year on year, according to the Culture and Tourism Ministry, while the national statistical body revealed that the country's tourism income surged 12.3 percent to 29.5 billion dollars.
The Culture and Tourism Ministry has revised its targets for 2023 from "50 million tourists and 50 billion dollars in tourism revenue" to "70 million tourists and 70 billion dollars," said Minister Mehmet Ersoy to Sabah daily.
Ersoy said, in order to reach the target of 70 billion dollars in revenue, it is necessary to focus on accommodation capacity and qualified tourism like gastronomy tourism.
"We want to become a center of attraction by revealing the richness of our country's gastronomy, especially for the high-income group we are trying to reach in the new period," Ersoy added.