KUWAIT: Turkish Ambassador to Kuwait Ayse Hilal Sayan Koytak spoke to Kuwait Times about travel to Turkey and measures in place against the COVID-19 pandemic. Some excerpts:
Kuwait Times: Tell us about tourism relations between Kuwait and Turkey. How many Kuwaitis visited Turkey last year?
Ayse Hilal Sayan Koytak: Tourism between Turkey and Kuwait is remarkable. Kuwait is the country that sends the most tourists to Turkey in proportion to its population. In 2019, more than 374,000 Kuwaitis visited Turkey. Last year, this number surpassed 120,000 despite COVID-19 travel restrictions. Tourism sector is not only economically profitable, but also contributes to better understanding between our peoples. Therefore, I wish to see more Turkish tourists visiting Kuwait too. I hope Kuwait will ease travel restrictions especially for our businesspersons and persons who travel for essential purposes.
KT: What is latest situation of the COVID-19 pandemic in Turkey? Where can we find up-to-date information on Turkey’s COVID-19 situation?
Koytak: Turkey has become one of the most disciplined and successful countries in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. We took early measures to protect visitors and citizens. These measures proved effective. On May 31, 2021, the Turkish government announced a gradual normalization period.
Turkey announced a four-tier system on local COVID-19 related restrictions. Provinces are now divided into four different risk groups: Low (blue), medium (yellow), high (orange) and very high (red), based on infection and vaccination rates. Our government provides information on daily cases as well as weekly summaries, including regional details. You can reach it at the webpage https://covid19.saglik.gov.tr/
KT: How about the tourism sector in Turkey? Is it safe to go on vacation to Turkey this year?
Koytak: Turkey is one of the world’s top 10 travel destinations, welcoming more than 45 million foreign nationals every year. Turkey introduced the ‘Safe Tourism Certification Program’ last year. It is one of the first of its kind. Thanks to it, we hosted over 15 million tourists despite pandemic restrictions. This year, the tourism season started following the holy month of Ramadan. We are ready to host our Kuwaiti brothers and sisters in our safe tourism destinations this year.
KT: What is the “Safe Tourism” concept about?
Koytak: The ‘Safe Tourism Certification Program’ defines and advises an extensive series of measures to be taken with regards to transportation and accommodation of all Turkish citizens and international visitors who will spend their holidays in Turkey, as well as the well-being and health conditions of passengers/guests and of employees working at touristic facilities. The ‘Safe Tourism’ certificate has been made compulsory for all hotels with a capacity of 30 and more rooms.
The Safe Tourism Certification logo is placed at visible areas inside the verified facility. There are QR codes on all logos and through these QR codes, all guests and customers have access to the facility’s inspection data. This way, the whole process is transparent. List of certified facilities can be reached at the webpage https://tga.gov.tr/search-hotel-category-en/. Furthermore, all employees employed in the tourism sector are given priority and are vaccinated.
KT: Are there any curfews or lockdowns in Turkey? Are the touristic, historical and shopping facilities open?
Koytak: There is a curfew from 10 pm to 5 am from Monday through Saturday, and a full lockdown in effect during Sundays beginning at 10 pm on Saturday and ending at 5 am on Mondays. However, foreign tourists are exempt from COVID-19 restrictions applied in Turkey. Museums and cultural sites are currently open only to foreign tourists. Restaurants, historical and archeological sites and shopping venues re-opened with strict measures. Public beaches accept visitors with strict rules.
Strict hygiene and safety measures apply to gastronomic facilities. In fact, gastronomy is also included in the “Safe Tourism” program. Restaurants participating in the program can be reached at the webpage https://tga.gov.tr/search-cafe-category-en/. Taxis are allowed with certain rules. Rent-a-car services continue. Visitors are expected to follow the instructions of the authorities. Using masks in open areas and maintaining social distance are among these rules.
KT: Are Kuwaiti citizens permitted to enter Turkey? Is a negative COVID-19 test required for entry?
Koytak: Kuwaitis can travel to Turkey. Direct flights to Turkey continue by Turkish and Kuwaiti airlines. When entering Turkey from Kuwait, passengers will not be required to submit a negative PCR test result if they submit a document issued by the Kuwaiti official authorities stating that they have been vaccinated at least 14 days before entering Turkey and/or have had the disease and recovered within the last six months. Quarantine measures will not be applied to these passengers.
If passengers departing from Kuwait cannot submit a vaccine certificate or the documents proving that they have had the disease according to the stated rules, submission of a PCR negative test result made maximum 72 hours before entering Turkey or a negative rapid antigen test result made maximum 48 hours before entering Turkey will be deemed sufficient. On the other hand, people entering Turkey may be subjected to a PCR test on the basis of sampling at their destination.
KT: Does the embassy receive visa applications?
Koytak: Kuwaiti citizens do not need a visa for their touristic travels to Turkey. Foreigners who need a visa can apply at the Turkey Visa Application Centre. Our visa center has been operating in Sanabil Al-Babtain Tower (Sharq – Jaber Al-Mubarak Street) since July 2018. It is run by a company authorized by the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I am glad that since the opening of the center, we have been providing a more comfortable, effective and fast visa application process to our brothers and sisters in Kuwait.
KT: Is digital registration needed for entry into Turkey?
Koytak: All passengers must complete their digital entry registration at http://register.health.gov.tr within 72 hours before entering Turkey. After the registration is completed successfully, you will have a personal HES code. The HES code must be presented in digital or printed form at check-in and the passenger must have it with them during their holiday in Turkey.
KT: What is the HES code and what does it do?
Koytak: The HES (Hayat Eve Sigar – Life Fits Into Home) is a 10 or 12 digit number that you will use to obtain a ticket to travel within Turkey by public transport. The code is used to prevent and slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. It provides information to passengers who have been exposed to the virus or who have been in contact with COVID-19 patients. It provides information about the risk level of the area. It helps to be communicated with quickly in case of any contact risk. It is obligatory to submit the HES code at the entrances of gastronomy facilities, hotels, shopping centers and public transportation vehicles, as well as museums and cultural centers.
KT: What happens if visitors catch COVID-19 during their holiday in Turkey?
Koytak: Within the framework of the “Safe Tourism” certification, accommodation facilities with a room capacity of 30 or more are obliged to allocate isolation areas for visitors. If a visitor is diagnosed with COVID-19, the visitor and his/her relatives are provided with rooms determined for isolation, for the duration and conditions specified in the accommodation contract. If the patient shows severe symptoms, he/she is referred to the hospital.
KT: Will health insurance cover the treatment costs of guests who contract COVID-19 during their travels in Turkey?
Koytak: Not all international health insurances may cover possible treatments in Turkey in case of infection with the SarsCoV-2 virus. Therefore, I would advise that it should be checked individually before the start of the trip. Travelers to Turkey can take out additional private health insurance before entering the country. There is a list of insurance companies authorized by the Turkish Ministry of Health to issue “COVID policies” for foreign tourists coming to Turkey. It can be reached at the webpage https://www.covidinsurance4turkey.com/
KT: Are accredited PCR test centers only available at airports in Turkey?
Koytak: In addition to international airports such as Antalya, Mugla, Bodrum, Izmir and Istanbul, around 480 accredited test centers offer passengers the opportunity to take a COVID-19 test before they leave Turkey. You can reach the current list at the webpage https://covid19bilgi.saglik.gov.tr/tr/. In addition, within the scope of the ‘Safe Tourism’ certificate, accommodation facilities with 30 rooms or more provide COVID-19 test service upon request.