For a population of 82 million, Turkey has reported earlier this week a total of 100.000 deaths and 376.000 infections from the Covid-19 pandemic, with 2,200 infections cases reported daily. The highest stats are reported in the metropolis of Istanbul which concentrates 15 million inhabitants, followed by the capital city of Ankara.
Unlike most countries of the world, Turkey imposed a lighter lockdown in the Spring, shutting down its borders and limiting domestic travel, but never shutting down the economy. Mention must be made that Turkey, especially its largest cities benefit from a very developed medical system, with major investments having been a priority for the past decade.
Istanbul has even become a medical travel destination for highly complicated medical cases such as neurosurgery, oncology, cardiology etc for many countries in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, but at the same time, also offering competitively priced plastic surgeries and dentistry attracting also patients from many countries in Western Europe.
From the the early days of the pandemic, Turkey understood that safety and hygiene measures to prevent Covid-19 infections are crucial for restarting and maintaining a functional and profitable tourism sector, which is crucial for its economy. Turkey hired famed international specialist companies such as Bureau Veritas and Ecolab to elaborate its own country-wide uniform set of measures and its own certification of tourism establishments.
For some of the hotels part of international chains, the measures imposed nationally by the Turkish authorities were more strict than those implemented at a chain level. Very importantly, unlike many other countries that implemented such complex measures, Turkey made sure that a system of constant checking and verifications is also in place, both on a weekly and monthly basis, with hefty fines for those not respecting the measures imposed.
When Turkey re-opened for international travellers in the last week of July 2020 without imposing any testing on arrival, pre-arrival or before departure, thus taking many by surprise. Unlike other countries, Turkey has never drawn up lists of countries to which would apply different measures.
Given Turkey’s turbulent political reputation, from the very beginning, many voiced concerns that the reported Covid-19 cases was much below the reality (which it could be), however, it never reached the point of exceeding the capacity of the hospitals, otherwise, no matter the political approach, cases would have surfaced.
In early August, Turkey opened corridors with countries such as Qatar and Russia, followed by most countries in Eastern Europe (EU and non-EU) and the CIS. Today, Kuwait and Lebanon have also been included in such a corridor, along with some African countries. Opening or making direct agreements with these countries is not only about not imposing restrictions on arrival but also making sure that citizens of these countries would not have to quarantine.
August, September and October have passed by, with some holiday destinations such as Bodrum outperforming previous years due to an extended season with much warmer weather but also strong demand from the domestic market. Russia’s Aeroflot has been running direct flights to Bodrum and Antalya since August.
Despite its density, Istanbul is probably the best performing metropolis in the world (except China), with occupancy at luxury hotels, for instance, surpassing an average of 50%. As the summer destinations have gradually drawn to a close, it is expected that the same capacity would run into the first half of November.
Most recently, Turkish Airlines has resumed direct flights from Istanbul to several U.S. cities. including New York and Washington. U.S. citizens being now able to enter Turkey without any restrictions such as quarantine or a Covid-19 test. It is unclear what restrictions U.S. citizens may face on their return from Turkey.
Restaurants, cafes, bars are open for both indoor and outdoor dining, including other venues limiting music until midnight. Larger gatherings are restricted, such as weddings or parties. Spas, gyms and swimming pools are also open with capacity restrictions. Malls and shopping centres are also widely open.
Best performing luxury hotels in Istanbul remain Raffles Istanbul, Swissotel The Bosphorus, Conrad Istanbul, Fairmont Quasar and local brand CVK Park Bosphorus. Kempinski Ciragan Palace and Four Seasons Istanbul at the Bosphorus, both enjoy a similarly good performances, thanks to their location, although both properties are in need of extensive renovations.
Brand new luxury hotels such as the Sofitel Istanbul Taksim and the JW Marriott Istanbul Bosphorus are presently running at 40-50% occupancy. The project of Galata Port adjacent to the JW Marriott Istanbul Bosphorus is expected to be completed next Spring, most likely providing a boost for Istanbul as a destination. Six Senses Istanbul Kocatas Mansions also opened this year, but with partial operations, yet enjoying a good traction for its F&B.
Rates are also timidly recovering, drawing close to those of last year, however, it is highly unlikely that even post-pandemic and vaccination and even with increased occupancy, rates are unlikely to reach the levels of those before 2016. The current performance and volumes will very much depend on how Turkey will continue to be able to keep under control the Covid-19 pandemic.
Future openings such as The Peninsula Istanbul and Mandarin Oriental Istanbul seem to be moving ahead, construction works having remained uninterrupted during the pandemic. Both hotels will probably open in 2022, at the earliest and they will both be challenged by rates at least half of those they projected when they started construction works.
After a failed attempt at Istanbul with the Pera Palace Hotel (presently managed by Rixos), Jumeirah Group is expected to open a five star hotel in the Ataköy district of Istanbul, an area which many consider inappropriate of a top luxury hotel. Initially the hotel developed by Kuzu Group was supposed to open in 2019. Contacted by CPP, Jose Silva, CEO of Jumeirah Group added a short comment ”this had been signed before my appointment”
Oliver Petcu in Istanbul
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