by Burak Akinci
ANKARA, Sept. 28 (Xinhua) -- Turkey's lucrative tourism industry is already gearing up for next year after a busy season with a particular emphasis on culture tourism, and the collapse of British travel giant Thomas Cook should have limited impact, professionals said.
"We are experiencing a successful season and the figures are looking very good. We are already preparing in various ways for next season that we hope will be even better," Turkey's Tourism Minister Metmet Nuri Erdoy told reporters on Sunday in Antalya, Turkey's coastal city on the Mediterranean, hosting millions of foreign tourists each year.
"We aim to increase both the number of tourists and tourism revenues. Everything goes as planned and we have targets, which is to host 52 million tourists in 2019 and 38 billion U.S. dollars in revenues," he said.
Turkey's tourism industry has enjoyed a recovery in the past two years from a sharp slump in visitors largely caused by anxieties that followed in 2016 the failed move to topple the country's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and a series of terrorist bombings in big cities.
In the first seven months of 2019, a total of 24.7 million tourists visited Turkey, an increase of 14 percent from a year ago, according to official figures.
Last year, 39.5 million foreign tourists visited Turkey, up from 32.4 million arrivals in 2017, a much needed revenue for the ailing economy trying to recover from a painful recession.
Major research conducted by World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) has revealed that the travel-tourism was the fastest growing sector in Turkey last year at 15 percent, contributing 96 billion dollars to the nation's economy with other related sectors included.
Meanwhile, in a report published on Tuesday, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced that "a strong tourism season" was among factors taking the pressure on the lira that lost 30 percent of its value in a currency turmoil in 2018, and would push Turkey out of the recession in 2019.
So preparations are underway for next year with a focus on Asian countries such as China, South Korea and Japan and also with an emphasis on culture tourism in Turkey's east and southeast, cradle of many civilizations, although coastal tourism combining the traditional sun and sand duo has still the lion's share.
Azad Gungor, head of the Association of Tourism and Hotels in the historic city of Mardin, told state-run Anadolu news agency that there has been a 25-percent increase in the number of tourist arrivals in the city this year compared to 2018.
"In addition to coastal tourism, people have begun to attach more importance to history and cultural tourism," he said.
Gobeklitepe, considered as a 12,000-year-old Neolithic temple defying scientific beliefs about mankind's history, also became this year a hot spot for culture tourism in the southeastern Sanliurfa province with more than 300,000 arrivals in the first nine months, local tourism officials told Xinhua.
"We expect this number to rise to half a million by the end of this year and possibly to one million in 2020 with a new promotional campaign which would also take travelers to others archeological sites in this region," an official said under condition of anonymity.
In the last two years, Turkey also made significant efforts to diversify its tourism industry by investing and encouraging alternative sectors of tourism such as health, fairs and golf.
And tourism is not a sector that could live without transportation. The Turkish flagship carrier Turkish Airlines (THY) is one of the airlines with the greatest number of destinations in the world. With the latest additions, the number of THY's direct flight routes reached 325 in 126 countries.
The only so far predictable hiccup for next season could be the collapse of the world oldest travel firm Thomas Cook, according to tour operators, as here are fears that Turkey could miss more than half a million tourists a year.
Osman Ayik, head of Turkey's Hoteliers Federation, said that the liquidation of the travel agency would mean that Turkey could see up to 700,000 less tourists annually.
Ayik told Reuters that several small hotels in Turkey could financially go down, particularly in the region of Antalya, one of Thomas Cook's top destination along with Bodrum, another popular destination for British and Scandinavian tourists.
However Turkish authorities are working hard to prevent any major and permanent impact.
"The tourism and finance ministries are working on a credit support package to be put in effect as soon as possible to help affected businesses," he said, calling on hotels not to evict Thomas Cook clients or face prosecution.