Tourists grab luxuries after rout of lira
Turks’ purchasing power has been slashed but foreign shoppers are cashing in
Istanbul — The collapse of the Turkish lira has caused trauma as Turks’ purchasing power has been slashed, but foreign tourists visiting the country at the peak of the summer season are cashing in on a currency windfall.
Visitors, mainly from Saudi Arabia and Asia, formed queues in Istanbul outside luxury stores like Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Prada after the lira took a hit against the dollar, losing more than 16% of its value on Friday.
"Everything is getting cheaper and cheaper," said Saudi Arabian tourist Nasir El-Nabir, outside a chic store in an upscale Istanbul district. "It’s like a 30% sale, so I am affected in a positive way."
Laden with shopping bags, tourists have enjoyed a shopping bonanza before retailers hike prices to take account of the lira’s devaluation, under the slightly bewildered gaze of Turks, who have borne the brunt of the crisis.
The queues suggest that the plunge in the lira, driven by Turkey’s bitter dispute with the US, is set to give a boost to the tourism industry, which has struggled after a failed coup and terror attacks in 2016.
The lira’s plunge — which had been under way for weeks — was turned into a rout on Friday when US President Donald Trump tweeted that Washington was doubling aluminium and steel tariffs for Turkey. The Turkish currency has since clawed back some ground.
Xenos Lemis, a tourist from Cyprus, said he had been following the currency drama. "We check the price of the lira every two hours and there is a significant change. So shopping for a tourist, this is a blessing."
But some visitors lamented that they also lost money when they converted a large sum of foreign money to the Turkish currency just before the crisis broke. "I’m quite surprised because I took a lot of cash from the bank in lira and when I woke up in the morning I found out that I almost lost [the equivalent of] one hundred or two hundred during one night," Kobe Wu Kejia, a Chinese tourist, said.
Turkey’s tourism sector has begun to recover in 2018. It has managed to diversify its appeal, with sharp rises in the numbers of visitors from countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia. Tourism from Europe has also revived.
Meanwhile, Russian tourism — critical for the economy on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast — has sprung back to life after being devastated by a political crisis between Ankara and Moscow in 2015.
Firuz Baglikaya, head of the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies, said there was a 30% increase in tourism in Turkey compared with 2017.
"We expect a $32bn foreign currency inflow. We have a target of having 40-million tourists since 2017 and if there’s nothing negative this objective will be achieved."
Package holiday giant Thomas Cook said earlier in August, before the lira crisis struck in earnest, that bookings for Turkey have increased 63% from 2017.