By Canan Sevgili and Can Sezer
ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s tourism revenue hit a record $46.3 billion in 2022 even as its trade deficit swelled to more than $109 billion, as a fallout from war in nearby Ukraine brought a surge of Russian arrivals but also drove up energy-import costs.
The two milestones for the big emerging market economy came as President Tayyip Erdogan faces a tight election in May, and as he forges on with an unorthodox policy of slashing interest rates to eventually achieve a current account surplus.
That goal was complicated by a surge in oil and gas prices in the first half of last year and by the lira currency’s slide due to the policy itself, analysts said.
Revenue from tourists jumped 53% from the previous year, and blew past the previous high of $34.5 billion in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, data from the Turkish Statistical Institute showed on Tuesday.
Foreign arrivals totalled 44.6 million last year, just shy of the 2019 peak of 45.1 million, tourism ministry data showed.
COVID-19 restrictions all but dissipated in 2022 and Russians, which were second only to Germans in foreign arrivals, came in droves partly due to flight restrictions imposed by Western nations over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Hundreds of thousands of Russians are also estimated to have moved last year to Turkey, seen as a safe haven for investment in homes and other assets.
Tourism Minister Mehmet Ersoy on Tuesday predicted that 2023 would see $56 billion in tourism revenue.
BIG IMPORT BILL
But even as arrivals at Turkey’s Mediterranean beaches and historical sites brought in forex, energy imports shot up by more than 90% to $96.55 billion in 2022, the official data showed.
Energy imports were up 14% in December.
Russia’s invasion last year initially sent oil and gas prices surging, straining Turkey, which imports virtually all its energy needs.
The overall foreign trade deficit surged 137% year-on-year to $109.54 billion in 2022, according to the general trade system, the data showed, while the December deficit increased 42% from a year earlier.
Graphic: Turkey 12 month trade deficit- https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/egvbyakmwpq/TR_Trade_Deficit_2022-12.png
In 2022, exports rose 12.9% to $254.1 billion and imports jumped 34% to $363.7 billion. In December, the deficit amounted to $9.7 billion.
Under Erdogan’s economic programme unveiled in 2021, Turkey aims to shift from chronic deficits to a current account surplus through stronger exports and low rates.
But the rate cuts sparked a currency crash in late 2021 that sliced 44% from the lira’s value that year, sending inflation roaring above 85% in 2022.
The currency weakness, including another 29% depreciation in 2022, attracted European and Arab tourists last year, sector officials said.
In the fourth quarter, tourism revenue climbed 22.2% to $11.37 billion, the data showed.
(Additional reporting by Azra Ceylan, Ceyda Caglayan and Huseyin Hayatsever; Writing by Jonathan Spicer and Arun Koyyur)