People walk in Sultanahmet Square with Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque in the background in Istanbul, Turkey, on July 28. [Photo/Agencies]

ANKARA-Turkey’s vital tourism sector is slowly recovering from COVID-19 as the country struggles to contain the epidemic, industry insiders say.

In Belek, which is famous for its many resorts on the Mediterranean Sea in southern Antalya province, hotels are promoting “safe tourism” in line with health guidelines issued by Turkish authorities to attract foreign visitors.

“We hosted tourists from Ukraine and people from the Balkans in recent weeks … but our occupancy rate has not reached 30 percent yet. So, for the moment, it’s quite difficult to predict the future,” Mehmet Keskin, a manager of a Belek resort, says.

“We have reservations for the coming weeks, and we are ready to welcome our visitors with all the necessary health precautions.”

Keskin adds that the Ministry of Tourism has certified his resort for hygiene and social distancing.

In early June, Turkey eased most of its COVID-19 restrictions, and tourism facilities in the country reopened with safety measures. But the occupancy rate has remained low, as visitors worry about the virus and wanted to avoid crowds.

Turkey’s Transport and Infrastructure Ministry said recently that Ankara and Moscow have agreed to resume flights following three and a half months of suspension amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Flights from Russia to Turkey gradually resumed on Aug 1, the news outlet Anadolu Agency reports, starting with flights to the two biggest cities, Ankara and Istanbul.

Flights to coastal cities, where most tourist resorts are located, are scheduled to resume on Aug 10.

Some 7 million Russians visited Turkey last year, according to Russian news media.

Russians topped the list of inbound visitors and accounted for 15.6 percent of arrivals in Turkey in 2019, according to the Turkish Culture and Tourism Ministry.

Tourism accounts for over 10 percent of Turkey’s economy, bringing in tens of billions of US dollars in hard currency and employing millions of people.

With a vulnerable economy and dwindling foreign currency reserves, tourism revenues are essential for the nation.

In 2019, Turkey’s annual tourism revenues rose to an all-time high, hitting $34.5 billion, according to official figures.

The Turkish government set a target of around $40 billion for 2020, but this has become almost impossible with the pandemic.

Nevertheless, hotel owners expect the sector to gain momentum.

Mediterranean Touristic Hoteliers Association chair Erkan Yagci says that 285 hotels have applied for the safe-tourism certificate, and more are preparing to do so.

For more than 10 days, Turkey’s new daily COVID-19 cases have hovered around 900, and the country has recorded nearly 230,000 cases and over 5,600 deaths.