ANKARA – Turkey expects a strong tourist season in 2008 despite an economic slowdown in Europe, its main market, and security concerns linked to Kurdish separatist guerrillas, tourism officials said on Monday. The tourism sector is a key source of foreign currency earnings for Turkey, a European Union candidate country, and helps to temper its bulging current account deficit. The Turkish Tourism Investors’ Association (TYD) expects the number of foreign tourists visiting Turkey to rise 12 percent in 2008, resulting in revenues of up to $21 billion, said Murat Dedeman, the head of the Tourism Investors Association. «It seems the trend is very good and that Turkey will have a good season. People are talking about a recession but this does not have too much effect on tourism,» he told Reuters. A credit crunch originating in the US housing market is starting to affect economies around the world. The International Monetary Fund has cut its forecast of 2008 economic growth in the eurozone, home of many visitors to Turkey, by 0.5 percentage point to 1.6 percent and says the global economy may deliver its weakest performance in five years this year. Dedeman’s optimism was echoed by the Turkish Travel Agencies’ Association (TURSAB), which predicts a 15 percent increase in tourist numbers in 2008 to 27 million. «Our contacts in market countries and the information gathered show that reservations in Turkey remained in a positive direction as of March,» TURSAB Chairman Basaran Ulusoy said, without giving any figures. Reservations, including from Germany, the biggest source of tourists to Turkey, are rising, he added. Holidays a ‘necessity’ Dedeman said holidaying abroad had become an established habit among Europeans, however tough the economic environment. «Tourism is the sector which will be affected last by a recession. Holidays have become a necessity for people. If they spent four days on holiday in the past, then they trim this to three days but they will still take holidays,» he said. Increased flights, new golf courses and thriving convention centers are helping to lure more foreign travelers. The number of tourists visiting Turkey in January alone rose 9.6 percent year-on-year. Turkey’s recent large-scale army offensive into northern Iraq against Kurdish PKK guerrillas there has had no discernible effect on reservations, both Dedeman and Ulusoy said. The Turkish military withdrew its troops from Iraq last week saying it had achieved its objectives. Ankara blames the PKK for the deaths of nearly 40,000 people since the group began its armed struggle in 1984 for a Kurdish state in southeast Turkey. Groups linked to the PKK have attacked targets in coastal resorts, although generally the violence has been limited to mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey, many hundreds of kilometers from the main tourist centers. Turkey had a bumper tourism year in 2007, with the number of tourists rising 18 percent year-on-year, and total spending reached $18.5 billion. This compares with total global growth in the tourism sector in 2007 of 6.5 percent. The government should provide incentives to boost tourism in relatively undeveloped eastern parts of Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, far from traditional spots such as Antalya, Dedeman said. If this were done, Turkey could boost its annual tourist numbers to 40 million and revenues to $40 billion by 2013, he added. Turkey has the longest coast in the Mediterranean. «We could attract tourists from Iran, Iraq and Syria to that part of the coast because it is near to them,» Dedeman said.