by Burak Akinci
ANKARA, Jan. 9 (Xinhua) -- Turkey is promoting the natural appeal of its Mediterranean resorts and athletes-friendly facilities in a campaign for sports tourism, a branch of the vital industry which is expected to rebound in post-pandemic period.
Tourism revenues are crucial for Turkey's economy but the industry has been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, shrinking by more than 70 percent in 2020, according to official data.
Tourist operators expressed hopes that with the launch of vaccination efforts across the world, and in Turkey with China's Sinovac vaccine, the sector will rebound in the second half of 2021.
The southern province of Antalya, hailed as Turkey's tourism capital, has become a magnet for international sports clubs in the past few years thanks to the investment made in new facilities, Recep Samil Yasacan, chairman of Sports Tourism Association (STB), told Xinhua.
"Reservations are already increasing for January, February and March from football clubs which want to practise in Antalya," he said during a phone interview.
The favorable climatic conditions, infrastructure and location has made Antalya one of the most preferred destinations among sports clubs. The Turkish province, which has dozens of resorts, attracts large quantities of football clubs especially during the clubs' winter training sessions.
Chinese football clubs have also chosen the namesake capital city Antalya and its surroundings in the past, Yasacan told Xinhua.
"We have reservations for this year from Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Serbia, Croatia and Romania," said Yasacan, noting other European nations will also be on the list once their flight bans on Turkey are lifted.
But everything depends on how the global health situation will evolve, he cautioned.
Turkey has seen a significant drop in daily COVID-19 cases in the past days thanks to weekend curfews and strict restrictions. Its national vaccination program is due to start later this month with medical professionals given priority.
Turkey ended a four-day nationwide curfew early Monday that already had New Year celebrations banned. More curfew measures are expected to continue at weekends until further notice.
"We are pinning a lot of hope on vaccines, and believe they will successfully work on people who will return to our well-equipped and hygienic facilities which are ready and willing to host our guests," Yasacan said.
Ozgur Cetin, a sales operator of a tourist agency specializing in sports and health tourism in the capital Ankara, said calls from European countries have increased, especially in recent weeks, to inquire about tennis camps and facilities in Antalya.
"Antalya city has one of the highest number of courts in the world as far as I know. There are nearly 2,000 tennis courts in the city and several big tournaments have been organized there in the past," he told Xinhua.
Golfing is another asset to the region boasting premium golf courses and related services, Cetin said, adding a golf player spends 10 times more than an ordinary foreign tourist. Enditem