As Turkey experiences economic decline, the conversion of Istanbul’s world-famous Hagia Sophia museum into a mosque has dealt another blow to the country’s tourism industry, already suffering from the global coronavirus pandemic.
In the second quarter of 2020, Turkey’s economy shrank 9.9%, reports Al Arabiya.
In July 2020, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a controversial decision that was condemned by the international community, converted the Hagia Sophia museum back into an active mosque.
The decision sparked outrage from critics who said Erdogan was pandering to his conservative, religious base to bolster his fading domestic support.
The loss of visitors could pose a threat to the Turkish economy, which depends on tourist dollars for around 30% of its annual income.
However, even without Erdogan’s controversial action, this year has seen drastically lower numbers due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The government has provided extremely limited economic relief for the ailing tourism industry.
Businesses were hoping for a visitor-surge this autumn when people are more likely to visit cultural sites rather than merely laze on the beach.
“Turkish tourism had already suffered a blow in the pandemic when the European Union did not include us as a safe country,” Nazlan Ertan, a Turkish journalist, told Al Arabiya English.
Ertan said that converting museums into mosques “clinches Erdogan’s image in the eyes of Western tourists as a conservative who has Islam foremost in his mind”.
This comes at a time when Erdogan’s regional rival, Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has been promoting his country’s diverse religious roots in an effort to boost tourism.
Egypt and Turkey have both been trying to market themselves as attractive destinations for tourists.
Ertan said Turkey is aiming to attract 75 million tourists annually by 2023.
With the value of the Turkish lira falling and inflation and unemployment rising, Erdogan is losing popularity at home.
Ertan believes that the overall message Erdogan is sending abroad to potential tourists is not likely to help him or the tourism sector.