Thermal scanning, face masks, and a generous hotel scheme awaits
With tourism contributing a whopping 12 per cent to Turkey’s GDP it is hardly surprising that the country’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism has gone into overdrive to restart an industry decimated by the Covid-19 crisis, introducing a whole raft of measures to address holidaymakers’ concerns about visiting this most hospitable of nations in these unprecedented times.
Now that Turkey has been included on the list of countries Brits can travel to without having to quarantine on their return, announced by the government on July 3, what can travellers expect to find on their arrival?
First up you’ll pass through a thermal scanner at your arrival airport prior to passport control. Should your temperature be above 37.8C expect to be taken aside and tested for Covid-19. Results take around two hours. Test negative and you’re free to go, positive and you’ll be whisked off to a hospital for treatment.
Should this unwelcome event occur, you can opt to be transferred to your hotel and isolate there – with a promise that even if your quarantine period exceeds the length of your stay you will not be charged for the extra days.
Not all hotels are covered by this scheme, so check before booking and consider taking out the government-backed Covid-19 Tourist Protection Health Insurance which offers three levels of cover starting at 15 euros for 7 days.
The last thing anybody really wants to think about when heading off on that long-awaited holiday is either ill-health or health-related restrictions, but given that, it does seem Turkey has taken great strides to welcome back visitors. The backbone of the measures is the Safe Tourism Certification Programme, launched by the government to ensure hotels, restaurants and cafes and tour and transfer vehicle companies are made as safe as possible for staff and guests.
The checks are carried out by independent agencies to avoid any taint of cronyism and are designed to ensure the wellbeing of staff and guests alike. A video released as part of the safe tourism package makes great play of a young boy arriving at Antalya Airport and being delighted by the high-tech wizardry of the thermal imaging cameras and personnel kitted out in ‘cyborg’ helmets with visors.
On arrival at your hotel you’ll be greeted by mask-wearing staff, heat-scanned again, abide by the social distancing rules with clear markers as a reminder, dine at tables set at least 1.5m apart and lounge on sunbeds following by the same distancing rules. Three months ago few of us would have contemplated a trip under these circumstances, but in these ‘new normal’ times we have grown accustomed to the once unthinkable.
Outside of the package holiday scene things have changed too. Umut Ozkanca of the d.ream group, which oversees many upmarket restaurants in Istanbul, told me that one of the first things they did after Covid-19 appeared was carefully check their suppliers to ensure the virus did not spread to their eating establishments from there.
Batu Aksoy of Istanbul’s Conrad Hotel explained how paper menus in its restaurants have been replaced with a QR code system and a specially-trained ‘ambassador’ checks all the measures are being implemented and explains the new system to diners.
Most of the historical sites which make Turkey such an attractive destination to many are open already, though the underground cities and rock-cut churches of Cappadocia remain closed for the moment as they are such enclosed spaces.
At the beautiful, Roman-era site of Sagalassos, high in the mountains behind Antalya, visitors will have their temperatures checked, encouraged to use the provided hand-sanitiser, wear a mask (provided) and follow the social distancing rules – made easier as only 100 visitors will be allowed on site at any one time.
Expect similar arrangements at Turkey’s countless other ancient sites. The owner of a clutch of villas near Kalkan, in Turkey’s gorgeous Lycia region, told me how the villas were sprayed to remove the virus between stays and then given a deep-clean.
The virus remains a problem in Turkey as it does everywhere in the world. Rallies were banned in Ankara on July 2 following a spike in cases and masks are required to be worn even outside in many provinces - though fortunately not in the southwestern Mediterranean and Aegean regions so popular with visitors.
Localised problems remain too, with megacity Istanbul recording over 50 per cent of the nation’s infections. Steamy, enclosed hamams (Turkish baths) remain closed for obvious reasons. But overall Turkey has handled the virus well, with far, far fewer infections and deaths than the UK, and in recent years it has developed a very well-regarded medical system with over 1,500 often state-of-the-art hospitals countrywide.
The completely risk-averse will, of course, steer clear of Turkey this year. Those with some concerns will ensure they get the government -backed insurance and stay in Safe Certificate hotels, old Turkey hands and the sanguine will simply travel using the same common-sense and caution they have to exercise in the ‘new normal’ UK.