ISTANBUL, Sept. 19 (Xinhua) -- Turkey is extending its tourism season to October-November amid new arrivals, trying to make the most of the COVID-19-hit sector, vital for the country's economy, tourism professionals said.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, this year has been rough for Turkish tourism industry that earned 35 billion U.S. dollars the previous year and employs millions.
Lockdowns and travel bans have hit the industry hard, however, hotels of the "Turkish Riviera", also known as the Turquoise Coast, located on the long and sunny southwestern Mediterranean shoreline, stepped up efforts to ensure a COVID-19 safe holiday for travelers.
The Antalya province is generally considered the heartland of Turkey's tourism sector, where hundreds of hotels and touristic facilities are located. Turkey's Safe Tourism Certification Program has helped the province keep its tourism sector alive throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
"The program, initiated by the Culture and Tourism Ministry, has been met with success from foreign visitors who will keep arriving until October and November," Volkan Yorulmaz, board member of the Professional Hotel Managers Association of Turkey, told Xinhua.
Yorulmaz, also the manager of a big hotel in Antalya's Kemer district, said that over 2 million foreign travelers have visited the region for holidays and thousands more are expected.
"In my hotel, the occupancy rate is currently nearly 70 percent. We have a capacity of 1,450 guests, but we are only accommodating around 800 to respect coronavirus safety rules," he explained.
"This season will certainly be finished with losses for everyone involved in this industry, but it could have been worse," the professional remarked.
A majority of tourists come from Russia and the rest from European nations which have not banned air travel to Turkey, such as Germany, Yorulmaz explained.
Turkey is among the very few countries Russians are allowed to fly to, he said, adding "the packages offered in Antalya are tempting. The Russian traffic to Antalya, which usually ends in September, can extend the season to November."
Smashed by coronavirus pandemic, international tourist arrivals declined globally by 65 percent in the first half of the year, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization.
As countries closed their borders and imposed travel restrictions to stem the spread of the virus, revenues from international tourism decreased by 460 billion dollars in January-June, the UN tourism body said on Tuesday.
Antalya's hotels restarted hosting tourists on June 1, when travel bans and restrictions were lifted.
Since then, new coronavirus cases had remained steady before a resurgence appeared in August. Turkey now reports around 1,700 daily infections, according to official data.
This year, Turkey hosted 5.4 million foreign visitors in the first seven months, down from 24.7 million in the same period last year, the Culture and Tourism Ministry data showed.
According to the ministry's projections, the number of foreign tourists this year could reach 15 million, bringing 11 billion dollars.