Special visa boosts number of Turkish tourists

The Turkish market is growing into a real driving force for Greek tourism, with market professionals estimating that by 2014, arrivals from the neighboring country will exceed the 1-million mark.

One of the factors that has contributed to the increase in traffic from Turkey to Greece is a program that started last year and is continuing this summer which allows Turks to visit the islands of the Aegean on a special visa that is issued much faster and covers only islands that are close to the Turkish coast for a limited period of time. The program includes the islands of Kos, Rhodes, Lesvos, Chios and Samos, with Kastelorizo added this year, while the special visas are only issued from May to October.

The Regional Authority of the Southern Aegean, meanwhile, has requested that the islands of Santorini, Myconos, Leros, Kalymnos, Symi and Patmos be added to the list of destinations in 2014.

Pericles Antoniou, the head of the Lesvos Hoteliers’ Association, also attributes the increase in visitor traffic from Turkey to the reduction in the cost of issuing a visa, which has dropped by some 50 percent to 35 euros. He adds that the opening of more visa centers where Turks can get their documents has also encouraged them to travel.

Antoniou notes that most Turks come to the Greek islands for one or two days, and that they also tend to spend a good deal on food and drinks. The Turks’ proclivity for good food and drinks has also been observed on other islands that are not included in the program, such as Myconos.

Meanwhile, businessmen and authorities at destinations including Santorini are exploring ways of raising their profiles among visitors from the neighboring country. The island’s hoteliers, for example, are considering participating in the EMITT 2014 tourism fair, which will be hosted by Istanbul from January 30 to February 2 next year.

Turkish arrivals have also risen significantly in Thessaloniki, with hotel reservations up 50.1 percent to 28,556 in the first half of this year compared to 19,025 last year, according to the local hoteliers’ association.

Overall, Turkish tourist arrivals in Greece grew by 3.9 percent in 2012 to 602,306, compared to 552,090 in 2011, figures from the Hellenic Statistical Authority show. In contrast, the number of Greeks traveling to Turkey declined by 4.6 percent to 669,823 in 2012 from 702,017 the year before, according to the Turkish Ministry of Tourism. Greek arrivals in Turkey appear to be improving, however, as they rose by 7.3 percent in the first half of this year compared to last, to 318,465 arrivals compared to 296,843.