Foreign visitors to Turkey slump 99 percent in May

The number of foreign tourists arriving in Turkey dived by an annual 99 percent in May as the COVID-19 pandemic all but shuttered the industry.

Visitors fell to 29,812 during the month, according to Tourism Ministry data published on Monday. The decline meant that arrivals in the first five months of the year fell by 66 percent to 4.3 million. The decrease in May was identical to the drop reported for April, when 24,238 people visited.

Turkey is seeking to draw tourists back to the country after lifting population lockdowns in its major cities and travel restrictions at the start of June. It is negotiating with scores of countries, including with European nations who supply most of the visitors, to lift travel warnings and ensure a swift resumption of tourism.

The highest number of visitors arrived in the northwest border region of Edirne (59 percent of total), Artvin near Georgia, Kilis at the border with Syria and Samsun in the north, destinations that are not normally leading attractions. That pattern suggests most of the visits were related to trade activities conducted by road.

Visitors to Turkey had risen by an annual 16 percent in January and by 3.8 percent the following month, before sliding by 68 percent in March, when the government reported the first case of COVID-19.

Revenue from tourism climbed to a record $34.9 billion last year, when Turkey attracted 45.1 million visitors.

Turkey faces stiff competition for tourists this summer from Mediterranean countries such as Greece, Cyprus and Italy, to which Europeans are beginning to return after travel bans were lifted.