Looking South

Turkey

Economic News

22 Jul 2010
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Declining numbers of arrivals are now prompting Turkey's tourism chiefs to try and lure a new type of visitor - the Arab tourist. In this, some of the factors dissuading travellers from the West may prove as positive bonuses for those flying in from the south and east.



According to Turkish-Arab Businessmen's Association (TURAB) President Mehmet Hadra, the Arab tourist market is relatively untapped by Turkey and has plenty of room for potential growth.



Tourists from Arab countries constitute around 5% of all tourists visiting the country every year, a figure which Hadra believes can be easily expanded given the added purchasing power oil price rises have given Gulf Arabs in particular.



"It would be a shame to miss out on all that oil wealth," he said, "it is something that we should be taking advantage of with rising oil prices."



Hadra believes that Arab tourists can also identify with Turkey, a Muslim country, and enjoy the greenery of the Black Sea region in particular, as a respite from the long hot summers in the Gulf.



Arab tourists are also known as big spenders in comparison to Western visitors. Central bank statistics recently gave an average spend per visitor from Westerners of around $600 a trip, whereas on average, Syrian tourists spend around $842. Gulf Arabs the argument runs, will likely spend much more again.



An injection of numbers and cash from the Arab world would certainly come in useful. The Ministry of Tourism and Culture noted an 11.5% decrease in arrivals for the first quarter of 2006. The number of tourists entering Turkey in the January-March period dropped from 2.5m in 2005 to 2.2m on the same period from last year.



Basaran Ulusoy, president of the Turkish Association of Travel Agents (TURSAB), told reporters last week that according to industry projections, "We will lose 4m tourists this year."



Ironically, while high oil prices might put more potential tourism dollars in some Arab's pockets, according to Ulusoy, another factor driving down tourist arrivals is the rapidly increasing price of oil.



"There are things, of course, that are directly influenced by such increases," he said. "Faced with the skyrocketing price of oil, the government responds by increasing the entry tax, which is one more negative effect on flight reservations to Turkey."



Turkey's global profile as a holiday destination was not helped either by the bird flu crisis of early 2006, which is thought to have been the biggest factor in a slowdown in the tourism sector this year. The recent upsurge in violence in the south-east of the country has also been a blow. This has perhaps kept alive bad memories from last year - when an English tourist was amongst those killed in a bomb attack in the seaside resort town of Kusadasi.



The crisis over the Iranian nuclear programme is also a factor believed to have had a knock-on effect on the country's tourism sector, an inherently risky business, according to Ulusoy. The season opened with all of these worries and has kept tourists away.



Official figures show the number of foreign visitors entering in March alone fell 16.7% when compared with the same period from the previous year. The number of arrivals stood at 921,892.



Of course, in some ways 2005 was a good year for Turkish tourism, with the arrival figures for foreign visitors for March 2005 being some 41.3% up on March 2004. According to State Institute of Statistics (DIE) figures, income has grown, year on year, despite the fall in percentage increases. The first quarter of 2005 saw total income from tourism as calculated by the DIE standing at $1.99bn, while a year later, it stood at $2.00bn.



However, such a mild increase in a sector used to continuous leaps forward has made many in the market shiver, with worries widespread that the sector needs to do something in this highly competitive industry.



Thus, targeting the Arab world may well be good tactics for the year ahead, as this has traditionally shown a more solid performance in the face of political uncertainties, and has boomed in the Middle East since 9/11 and the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Turkey may now be looking for a little of that Arabian promise for itself.


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