ISTANBUL, Nov. 9 (Xinhua) -- As Turkey's vital tourism sector has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic in the punishing year 2020, professionals are in search of alternatives to diversify their products for a better season in 2021.
Most of the hotels in the southern province of Antalya, the tourism sector's heartland with a bed capacity of nearly 600,000, have closed their doors until the next holiday season which is expected to start in April 2021.
Nearly 3.3 million tourists visited the sunny Mediterranean province in the first 10 months of this year, a 77-percent decline year on year, according to the provincial directorate of culture and tourism.
Turkey, the world's sixth most popular travel destination and cradle of many civilizations, welcomed some 9.46 million foreign visitors during the first nine months of 2020, Turkey's Culture and Tourism Ministry announced on Oct. 30.
Projections for the entire year stand at around 12 million tourists, far below last year's numbers, to say nothing of a huge loss in revenues.
In 2019, revenues had hit a record 34.5 billion U.S. dollars with more than 45 million foreign visitors. Antalya, alone, with its golden beaches and archaeological features, hosted a record number of nearly 15 million foreign tourists.
The tourism sector is an important source of foreign currency for Turkey, helping it rein in the energy-importing country's usually wide current account deficit amid a vulnerable economy.
"It has been very hard and challenging with this pandemic and the travel restrictions of mainly European states, despite the industry's efforts to ensure a safe holiday for our guests," Esra Atac, manager of a travel agency located in the capital Ankara, told Xinhua.
After the COVID-19 crisis erupted, the Culture and Tourism Ministry adjusted its target of 50 million tourists to 15 million in overall 2020.
"Still, we think Turkey made all right compared to other major tourism destinations. We were quick in reacting to this global health crisis, and we are gathering energy for next year with alternatives such as medical, faith, culture, and gastronomy tourism," Atac said.
With the help of the Safe Tourism Certification program, which covers a broad range of health safety measures in transport, accommodation and recreational facilities for tourists and hospitality employees, Culture and Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy said a total tourism income of 11 billion dollars was achievable this year.
Most hoteliers were hoping for an extended holiday season until the end of the year, but the resurgence of coronavirus cases in many tourist source countries spoiled plans. Germany and Britain ordered new lockdowns and travel bans.
Players in Turkey's tourism sector aim to further expand the market as they make preparations for 2021.
"It could have been worse. We are drawing lessons from this year's challenges to start anew for next year with new offers to our visitors, with different alternatives," said Volkan Yorulmaz, a board member of the Professional Hotel Managers Association of Turkey.
"We are looking for alternative markets for the coming years. We have important initiatives that will attract tourists not only from a few points but from every corner of the world," said Yorulmaz.
Cultural tourism may serve as a cure for the sector.
The pandemic has further consolidated Turkey's comparative advantages in cultural tourism, said Faruk Pekin, a pioneer in the industry, in an interview with Hurriyet Daily News.
"Whichever country has open-air historical sites will have a comparative advantage. Turkey has much more when compared with any other country in the Mediterranean," he added. Enditem