Turkey's tourism industry struggles as Russian visitors face sanctions

Turkey's tourism industry is feeling the impact of sanctions on Moscow, as Russian tourists are facing barriers when travelling to the country.

The Mediterranean country's economy relies heavily on foreign visitors, with 2.2 million Russian tourists entering the country in the first seven months of 2022.

Niko Valdes, the owner of a fish restaurant on the shore of Istanbul's Bosphorus Strait, says his business is one of the places that is facing challenges this year.

“We have big issues [with their credit cards]. Russian people coming to the restaurant, they have credit cards ... but they're not working,” said Niko Valdes, the restaurant’s owner.

“I am not happy, and my guests are not happy. For Russian people, it’s difficult.”

While Russian tourists continue to come to Turkey, the EU is tightening rules against them after Ukraine’s government urged the bloc and G7 countries to instate a visa ban.

Ukraine’s foreign ministry didn’t respond to Euronews’ requests for comment on whether Ankara should do the same.

Turkey has played a unique role in the war, providing drones to Ukraine while maintaining a friendly relationship with the Kremlin, especially a financial one.

Skyrocketing inflation makes a dent in Erdogan's popularity

For Valdes, Russians account for about half of his business.

“We have a very bad economy, but Russian tourists coming here means we can earn money, which is good," he said.

Several yachts owned by Russian oligarchs are reported to have docked in Turkey following Western sanctions on Moscow.

For one, a yacht believed to be owned by Russian billionaire Dmitry Kamenshchik is docked on Turkey’s popular southern coast.

The US warned in August there was a risk of penalties for Turkish companies if they worked with sanctioned Russians.

Ankara dismissed the concerns, stating it would improve trade with its neighbours while not going against sanctions.

Any business Turkey can get is vital for its embattled economy, which is now seeing an official inflation rate ballooning to more than 80% -- which has put a major strain on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s popularity.

Economist Can Selcuki said tourism revenue is especially important this season as Erdogan is set to face his most difficult election next year.

“Given the macroeconomics in Turkey right now and the dire need for any kind of exchange currency in Turkey, I would say Russian tourists are very important,” said Selcuki.