A gloomy mood in Turkey
Signs of Turkey’s economic troubles are everywhere, particularly in the tourism industry.
Tens of thousands of tourists have cancelled vacation plans to visit Turkey, decisions that will lead to a serious loss of revenue. Foreign students who may have planned to spend months studying in Turkey are reportedly changing their minds and their destinations.
An American college student, the daughter of an acquaintance, had planned to visit Istanbul for the summer. However, her university cancelled its Turkish summer courses in the aftermath of Islamic State-inspired suicide bombings that killed more than a dozen tourists in some of Istanbul’s main tourist spots along with Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) attacks in Ankara and other cities that killed dozens. His daughter will study in Germany instead.
Add to this the Obama administration ordering the families of 700 military personnel to leave Turkey because of possible attacks. The US State Department updated its travel warning, advising that “there were increased threats from terrorist groups throughout Turkey” and withdrew staff members’ families from the consulate in Adana and offices in Izmir and Mugla.
All this means that fewer and fewer Europeans and Americans will be going to Turkey this year and this could not happen at a worst time. Tourism accounts for about 4.5% of the country’s $800 billion economy and injects billions in much-needed foreign currency. In 2015, before the latest round of attacks, Turkey’s tourism industry was expected to lose $10 billion-$11 billion, much of this coming from the drastic drop in visitors from Russia and plummeting hotel room prices designed, but failing, to attract more visitors. Already media in Turkey are calling 2016 “a lost year” for the country’s tourism sector.
This is only the tip of the economic iceberg.
From 2002-06, during the Justice and Development Party’s first term in government, the economy grew 7.3%. This gave Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then the prime minister, credibility with the Turkish people and his party proceeded to win three more terms and he was eventually elected president.
This bright picture has dimmed. Turkey struggles with myriad problems, including a rapid drop in the value of the lira, slowing economic growth and increasing debt. The International Monetary Fund predicts a 3.5% growth rate in 2016, mostly a result of the fall in global oil prices and a 30% increase in the country’s minimum wage. However, it also expects inflation to exceed the government’s 5% target by “a wide margin”.
While some of these problems are global in nature — the flood of Syrian refugees to name a major one — many are of Erdogan’s making. Among them are the decision to shoot down a Russian fighter jet that crossed into Turkish airspace and allowing individuals who wanted to join the Islamic State (ISIS) to slip across Turkey’s border with Syria as part of a plan to undermine the government of Bashar Assad — a plan that has backfired as ISIS sees Turkey as a partner in the US war on its existence. There is also the decision to forget about peace with the Kurds and return to open-ended conflict.
Foreign investors, key to much of Turkey’s earlier growth, are increasingly nervous over what is happening politically inside the country. Erdogan’s crackdown on dissent, including jailing journalists on trumped-up charges, undermining police and judicial independence and basically criminalising free speech that isn’t pro-government, will not help convince investors that Turkey is a stable country in which to put their money.
Erdogan, who once had such a steady hand on the helm, now looks lost and increasingly angry as he lurches from crisis to crisis. As the economic picture darkens, so does his mood. His new tactic seems to be using terrorism and the Kurds to take Turks’ attention off the fact that people are losing their jobs and the situation is only going to get worse.
It is unlikely that the old Erdogan, the one with the steady hand, will return any time soon, which means that he and his fellow Turks are in for a very rough next few years.