FILE PHOTO: Tourists enter Hagia Sophia as they pass by an armoured police vehicle in the Old City of Istanbul
By Maria Sheahan and Peter Maushagen
BERLIN (Reuters) - Turkey expressed hopes on Friday for a revival of its tourism industry after security concerns caused a 30 percent drop in foreign visitors and revenues last year.
"We are seeing some very positive signals. That gives us hope," Turkish Culture and Tourism Minister Nabi Avci said at ITB Berlin, the world's biggest tourism fair, on Thursday.
The number of foreign visitors to Turkey fell to 25.4 million in 2016, the lowest in nine years, after a spate of bombings and a failed coup discouraged tourists.
Bookings from Germany, the source of around 15 percent of Turkey's tourists, are also suffering as security worries are exacerbated by rising tensions over Turkish political rallies in Germany and the detention of a Turkish-German journalist in Istanbul.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu unexpectedly stopped by ITB on Wednesday and lobbied for German tourists to return.
"There is no reason for our German friends to be afraid to come to Turkey. Turkey is as safe as Germany," he said.
Hotels in Turkey on average filled only 53 percent of rooms last year, and many have slashed prices.
Palm World Resort & Spa, a 620-bed hotel near the seaside town of Side, is offering rooms at a discount of 35-40 percent, after a 50 percent price cut last year, owner Mehmet Surucuoglu told Reuters at ITB.
So far, though, only 25 percent of its rooms have been booked for the summer season.
"It is better to have some people coming at lower prices than to have an empty hotel," said Surucuoglu, who relies on Germany for 90 percent of his guests.
The government is trying to prop up the travel sector - which contributes about $30 billion to the economy in a usual year - by expanding fuel subsidies for airlines and helping hotels obtain loans, Avci, the tourism minister, said.
Fuel subsidies of $6,000 per flight carrying up to 200 passengers are now available for scheduled flights as well as charter carriers, and the number of eligible airports has been increased to 14 from five, he said.
Still, Thomas Cook's Condor has cut capacity to Turkey by 10 percent this summer, after a 30 percent drop in passenger numbers last year, Chief Executive Ralf Teckentrup told Reuters at ITB.
Kayihan Suer, sales manager at Peninsula Tours, said his company had managed to keep occupancy rates over 80 percent in eight of its 12 hotels by bringing in guests from many different countries, making it less reliant on any one market.
"We've been doing business for 35 years, we've made mistakes and learned our lessons. Now we have over 20 different nationalities in our hotels," he said, adding that there was strong interest from Romanian and Bulgarian tour operators.
Murat Sak, who manages the Venosa hotel near Bodrum, said the proportion of Turkish guests had risen since last year and was now at 40 percent, helped along by discounts for early bookings.
(Additional reporting by Victoria Bryan; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)