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Sanctions on Russia may limit the number of Russian tourists visiting Turkey

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

With Russia facing international sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine, countries nearby worry about how severe the effects could be on their own economies. Antalya, Turkey, is a popular vacation spot in the region, and businesses there rely on planeloads of Russians coming to the beaches every summer. Shop owners are bracing for the reality that those tourists may not be there this season. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Last week's meeting here between the top diplomats from Russia and Ukraine turned out to be of interest to more than just diplomats and journalists. As they exited the hotel, two Turkish security guards stopped me to ask, what happened in there? Did they make peace? Their faces fell as they heard that there had been no progress inside. That meeting occurred at one of Antalya's five-star resorts. But in the central district of this city of over a million people, it's more modest tourism that makes the economic wheels turn. In 2019, more than 13 million visitors came here. And Russians filling the beaches by day and the clubs by night were a big part of that. Standing in the doorway of his watch-selling business, 65-year-old Ersan (ph) agrees to talk with a reporter if his last name isn't used. All those interviewed for this story were worried about possible retribution for speaking candidly about the slumping economy. Ersan says business isn't just slow, it's almost dead, down by some 80%. He blames the sanctions.

ERSAN: (Through interpreter) We were expecting a lot of Russians this year. But the Russians who come here, they're not going to have money in their pockets. So they're not going to be good for us. They're not going to spend money.

KENYON: At a nearby shopping mall, 26-year-old Ulas (ph) looks around at the empty stores and says, things have been tough ever since the coronavirus pandemic hit. He was hoping this would be his bounce back year. But now, he says, with a war in the region, his hopes are fading.

ULAS: (Through interpreter) So first, the pandemic affected us. Business was down, of course. Then the war happened as well. Here in the city center, it's a problem. The people aren't coming.

KENYON: I went in search of an open travel agency that brings people to these beaches and found 46-year-old Ali (ph). He owns the textile shop across the street. But he agreed to watch his brother's travel agency, which wasn't much of an added burden given how slow it's been.

ALI: Well, yeah, mostly, we're working with Russia because most of the people are coming from Russia - Ukraine as well, coming from Ukraine as well.

KENYON: Interesting mix.

ALI: (Laughter) Well, they are two same folk. But bombing each other is something terrible, you know? We don't understand that situation.

KENYON: Ali says his brother is still getting calls from clients, most lamenting that they won't be coming this year.

ALI: He says they are calling like they are sad about this, you know, that they cannot travel. The sanctions, you know, are terrible. And Europe, America still imposes the sanctions on the country. And so this is disturbing everyone (laughter)...

KENYON: Yeah, very much so.

ALI: ...Disturbing us and the world.

KENYON: Meanwhile, economists are warning that President Erdogan's insistence on keeping interest rates low is hurting other sectors of the economy as well. As prices soar and the Turkish lira slumps, it's adding up to a gloomy outlook for the country's tourism hot spots.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Antalya, Turkey. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.