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Turkey’s hot-air balloon trips hold appeal despite COVID-19 pandemic

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As one of the most popular attractions for foreign visitors to Turkey, hot-air balloon trips still hold their appeal despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 128,000 visitors took hot-air balloon trips in 2020 to experience a bird’s-eye view of Cappadocia, a scenic region in the central Turkish province of Nevsehir, according to regional professionals.

“This number is quite impressive and satisfying when you think that we have a pandemic in our hands. It is still 70 percent fewer than in 2019, but we are nevertheless happy,” Halis Aydogan, a balloon pilot and partner of Voyager Balloons, told Xinhua.

“Cappadocia is a unique location, and visitors have continued to come from as far as Latin American countries to fly in our balloons,” he said.

Aydogan expressed hopes that with the vaccination drives in motion across the world, balloon tourism will regain momentum in the second half of 2021.

On Dec. 14, Turkey launched a mass inoculation campaign with the COVID-19 vaccines developed by the Chinese company Sinovac, targeting primarily health workers.

“Chinese visitors are very fond of our trips. And I am confident that they will return to our balloons and enjoy our daily flights when the travel restrictions would be eased,” he said.

This veteran pilot, however, added reservations are going on for the summer season from other countries. “Each day, we receive emails and phone calls from people abroad who are eager to do ballooning.”

Turkey’s tourism income narrowed significantly by over 70 percent in 2020 as the pandemic led to worldwide travel restrictions, border shutdowns, and an overall drop in consumer demand.

Cappadocia, preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is mostly famous for its unique volcanic cones, valleys, underground cities, and houses and hotels carved into rocks.

The hot-air balloon tours in Cappadocia, which were temporarily suspended in mid-March 2020 as part of the measures to stem the spread of COVID-19, resumed at the end of August.

Hoping that this year will be better with the help of COVID-19 vaccination campaigns, Tevfik Olmez, head of Anatolian Hot Air Balloon Operators Association, told the state-run Anadolu agency that there is no such place other than Cappadocia where 3,000 people can fly with 150 balloons daily.

Cappadocia is not the only region in Turkey where ballooning is popular. Pamukkale, famous for its travertine terraces, has become another destination for hot-air balloon enthusiasts in recent years.

Pamukkale, meaning “cotton castle,” is one of the most remarkable natural sites in the world with its cotton white plateaus and its ancient Roman heritage.

(XINHUA)

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