Mohammed Abdel-Qader, who works in an Egyptian telecommunications company, has been planning for a year to spend New Year's Eve in Turkey. “I have always wanted to experience snowboarding in mountainous areas,” he told Al-Monitor.
Abdel-Qader considers himself lucky to travel at this time in light of the drop in the exchange rate of the Turkish lira. “This decline allowed me to go shopping for clothes in Turkey, with a total budget of $2,000.”
The embattled Turkish lira hit an all-time low of 18.4 versus the dollar Dec. 20, hours before President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced measures to bolster the currency. The lira rebounded strongly after the announcement, but is still about 40% down against the greenback this year.
For Egyptian tourism companies, this downfall was an opportunity to market tourist trips to Turkey. Hussein Al-Ansari, director of an Egyptian tourism company, told Al-Monitor he instructed his employees to encourage customers to spend their holidays in Turkey and take advantage of the price gap.
According to Ansari, competing companies have taken the same approach. “Turkey is a nearby and cheap tourist destination for Egyptians," he said. "My customers send me daily photos of products they bought there at very low prices.” He noted, however, that prices for flights and hotels have remained unchanged as they are paid in US dollars.
“Overall, tourists would save about 25 percent of their trip budget if they go now while the lira is low,” Ansari said.
The prices of basic commodities, especially food products, have risen sharply in Turkey this year. The official inflation rate reached an annual of 21.3% in November. On Dec. 20, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledged to protect deposits in Turkish Lira against market volatility.
Raed Younes, director of the marketing department at a Turkish tourism company, does not believe the lira slump would bolster tourism to Turkey. He argued that the tourism season ended at the end of the summer.
He noted, however, that the drop will slightly raise the number of Egyptian tourists to Turkey, especially those who like winter sports.
“It is wrong for tourism companies to tap on the depreciation of the local currency as a marketing advantage to promote their programs,” Younis told Al-Monitor. “Tourists from abroad, especially families, do not care much about the currency exchange rate. Most of the tourists’ budget is allocated to airline tickets and accommodation. The low exchange rate will only allow tourists to purchase some goods at relatively low prices.”
However, Nada Al-Banna just returned from a week-long tourist trip to Turkey that cost her about $2,000. She spent half of that amount on clothes and gifts, which she confirms were of surprisingly high quality.
Banna believes the low exchange rate alone is not enough to encourage tourists to choose a specific destination. To visit Turkey, she only needed an entry visa, which was issued two weeks later by the Turkish embassy in Cairo. She got her security approval a day later. Turkey is on the list of 18 countries where an Egyptian citizen needs security approval from the state authorities prior to visiting.
Despite those restrictions, Banna met many Egyptian tourists, especially families, during her trip.
According to Attila Ataseven, the chairman of the Turkish-Egyptian Businessmen Association, the number of Egyptian tourists who visited Turkey through September amounted to about 100,000, compared to 69,000 in 2020. He confirmed to Al-Monitor that Egyptian and Turkish tourism companies seek to double this number in 2022.
The association sought to cancel the visa requirement, “but the Egyptian officials refused to take such a move at the present time, fearing some travelers would exploit this to flee the country or exceed their stay duration.” Ataseven believes the movement of tourists and business travelers between Egypt and Turkey requires Cairo to facilitate visas and create some exemptions.
He expects Turkey to be the first tourist destination for Egyptians, due to the similarity between the two people of culture and customs. “This is in addition to the regularity of low-cost flights between the two countries, and the low prices of goods and services in Turkey for Egyptians, even before the slump of the lira,” he said.
“An Egyptian tourist can travel, stay, and buy high-quality products at a budget close to that needed for a domestic flight in his country,” Ataseven said. He pointed to the high quality of Turkish products, especially clothes, that match European standards, but at prices 50 percent to 70 percent lower.