Greek, Bulgarian Tourists Flood Turkish Towns to Shop As Nation's Currency Declines

Shoppers from Bulgaria and Greece have flooded into Turkey to go on shopping sprees due to the country's declining lira currency.

Turkey is currently in economic crisis, as inflation has climbed to figures over 21 percent. The lira hit a record low against the U.S. dollar on December 20 of 18.36 lira for one dollar, with the currency losing over 60 percent of its value against the dollar just this year.

It has partially rebounded to 11.46 lira against the dollar on December 27. The inflation and fluctuating prices have affected everything from food to gas prices.

People from neighboring countries have taken advantage of the economic instability ahead of the holiday season, heading to markets and grocery stores in Edirne, in northwest Turkey.

Hatice Ahmedova, a Bulgarian woman, told the Associated Press she woke up at 3 a.m. to get on a bus headed for Turkey on Christmas Eve. She added that she was able to exchange 200 Bulgarian levs (approximately $115.74) for 1,150 liras.

Bulent Reisoglu, the president of Edirne's Ulus bazaar cooperative, told the AP the number of foreign tourists in the city has quadrupled in recent weeks.

"Parking lots are filled with Bulgarian cars, it has become almost impossible to see Edirne or Istanbul license plates," he said. "(They) are shopping as if they are crazed, not knowing what they are buying and buying five or ten of the same with the logic of selling it or thinking they won't find these again."

Edirne, Turkey, bazaar, tourists
Bulgarian shoppers are crossing Turkey’s western border in packed cars and buses, taking advantage of a weakened Turkish lira to fuel their own shopping sprees. Above, Bulgarian tourists shop at a bazaar in Edirne, near the Bulgarian border, in Turkey on Friday, December 24. Emrah Gurel/AP Photo

On Christmas Eve, the city's Turkish marketplace was packed with shoppers from Bulgaria. Foreign shoppers' first stop was the currency exchange followed by the markets and grocery stores.

Gulfiye Osinova, 60, was there to find gifts for her children and grandchildren, saying that Bulgaria was much more expensive.

For the Bulgarian shoppers, Turkey's grocery stores are a bargain, and they leave the country with their trunks packed.

Shoppers were also coming from neighboring Greece, converting euros into lira. One shopper, Esra Molla, said she was happy to be buying gifts for her family and herself.

The lira rebounded after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced new financial tools to protect lira deposits against currency fluctuations and closed last week at 10.83 against the dollar.

Despite the lira's rally in the past week, the Turkish national currency has still lost nearly 40% of its value this year, triggered by Erdogan's insistence on lowering interest rates, which currently stand at 14%. Established economic theory says high inflation can be lowered by raising interest rates, but Erdogan argues otherwise. Under his new economic program, Erdogan wants cheap credit, high exports and big growth.

With Turks waiting for bread in long lines in the cold this month, the decline of their buying power amid price hikes has been painfully visible. Erdogan has urged Turkish businesses to lower their prices as the lira stabilizes, but there are no signs yet they will be replacing the hordes of Bulgarian shoppers in Edirne anytime soon.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Edirne, Turkey, Bulgaria, shoppers, car
Bulgarian and Greek shoppers have been flooding into Turkey to take advantage of low prices brought on by the country's economic crisis. Above, Bulgarian tourists place their shopping bags in their car after shopping at a bazaar in Edirne, Turkey, on Friday, December 24. Emrah Gurel/AP Photo