For guides it will be even more difficult

Interview with Recep Yavuz, NBK Touristic, Antalya

Reiseleiter mit Mund-Nasen-Schutz bei einem Seminar zu Corona Maßnahmen

Türkei Juni 2020 Reiseleiter Seminar Corona Maßnahmen


Vaccinations play a major role in protecting the most vulnerable populations against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Turkey has made headlines by giving priority to vaccinating hotel staff on the Turkish Riviera. We asked Recep Yavuz, who had worked as a tour guide for many years, about the situation faced by tour guides at the beginning of this year’s holiday season. Today, Recep Yavuz is the general manager of the Turkish incoming agency NBK Touristic in Antalya.

TW: Prior to the start of the 2021 summer season, what is the current situation in Turkey?

Recep Yavuz: Like other countries, Turkey had to fight a war against the pandemic. Turkey has a similar population size to that of Germany, but the majority are young people. From mid-March, the daily rates of infection increased continuously. A strict lockdown followed in May. Daily rates of infection declined, so that since early June Turkey is no longer considered a high-risk area for German guests.

In 2019, Turkey had almost 52 million visitors. With an income of 34 billion US dollars, 2019 was the best year ever. These figures secured Turkey’s place among the ten most popular holiday destinations of the world and encouraged companies to invest even more in tourism. New hotels and resorts with modern infrastructure were built. Airports were expanded or newly built, roads were modernised and adapted to tourism.

The COVID-19 pandemic put everything on hold for more than one year. However, it was not allowed to dismiss staff, and the government covered about 60 percent of the wages. This will apply only until the end of June. And freelance guides did not benefit from this at all.

TW: How much importance is given to the tourism sector in Turkey’s vaccination drive?

Recep Yavuz: Vaccinations started in mid-January with people over 65, medical staff, people in exposed occupations and people with chronic health conditions. The Chinese vaccine Sinovac and the Biontech vaccine were used. As of 23rd June 2021, almost 44 million people got their first vaccination. 17.5 percent of the population are fully vaccinated.

Over time, it became clear that tourism would restart in mid-May and that tourist receiving countries should vaccinate their tourism staff. In Turkey, more than 1.5 million people are directly employed in tourism. On 7th April, Turkey started to actively vaccinate the tourism workforce. This includes the staff in hotels and resorts which have the ‘Safe Tourism Certification’, in restaurants, coffee shops, with tour operators, and transport companies that have a ‘Safe Tourism Certification’ (two drivers per coach). It also includes the guides who are members of the tourist guide association, the staff of parks, theme parks with ‘Safe Tourism Certification’ and of marine transport companies. By 1st June, about one million tourism employees were vaccinated.

TW: The ‘Safe Tourism Certification Program’ introduced in Turkey last year covers more than just hotels. Does it also help to ensure the safety of tour guides and their guests?

Recep Yavuz: In summer 2020 Turkey started a comprehensive ‘Safe Tourism Certification Program’. It is based on four pillars: the health of guests and workers and measures for the resorts and the transport sector. About 200 criteria have been fixed, among which the points related to transport and sightseeing are relevant for guides. Several Turkish and foreign companies have been put in charge to keep monitoring and certifying. This was of major help for both tourists and locals. It was clearly visible that things were taken seriously.

TW: What are the main concerns about health risks remaining?

Recep Yavuz: The risks still exist, and nobody can predict developments in advance. Every day, there are new scientific findings that require further measures. That’s why all enterprises should follow the developments and train their staff accordingly, so that risks should be avoided. After one and a half years, the guests would like to feel that everything is fine during their holidays. However, from a social point of view, it is better to have similar rules and restrictions for both local people and tourists. During the lockdown, there were restrictions for local people, while some of the measures for guests had been lifted. Now it is okay.

TW: Will tourism be different this year and post-COVID?

Recep Yavuz: Of course, it will. It will take a few years for tourism to get back to normal. Not just arrivals, but also the content of tourism will be rewritten. That’s why I consider this summer as extremely important to see how tourism will be in the destinations. This will serve to rebuild post-COVID tourism.

Guides are needed only if there are guided tours at all. Tourists coming and filling the hotels are not sufficient. Whether tourists leave their hotels or not does not only depend on COVID-19, but also on the attitude of the guests, the all-inclusive system and the very modern hotels that offer everything to the tourists. It will take another long time until people will go on long tours together on a coach. So, from my perspective, the work of guides will continue to be severely restricted. For the first time, many guides think about looking for different jobs.

We had to make a major effort during these times to stay alive. We could not even hug our own children. It was a very upsetting situation, so we would not want to risk the sacrifices we made. Post-COVID-19 the situation will continue to be difficult, but for guides it will be even more difficult.