As part of a strategy to pull in an uninterrupted flow of tourists throughout the year, Turkey's ministry of culture and tourism is moving ahead to place numerous destinations with geo-thermal resources on the global map. Continuous investment in tourism infrastructure, along with promotion abroad of health tourism, will be key to the future success of the segment.
The central Anatolian province of Yozgat has been earmarked as a big destination, with eight geothermal springs being developed to lure Turkish and foreign travellers. This comes as part of a broader plan to diversify away from Turkey's sun, sea and sand. Along with central Anatolia, a number of locations in the southern Marmara and southern Aegean regions have been identified by the ministry as having significant thermal potential.
Already big bucks are being spent to cash in on the country's geothermal potential. A joint investment in Turkey's thermal-blessed Denizli to develop a spa centre - worth almost $45m and to be completed in seven years - was announced in February. The undertaking is being supported by the ministry, the Denizli governorship, the Pamukkale Thermal Hotels' Union (PATERO) with the actual survey of the undertaking performed by the French government. The Pamukkale Thermal Cure Centre is expected to cater to 1500 people per day.
Meanwhile, Turkey's Korel Group announced in January that it would spend $45.5m on a spa hotel in Afyon, in western Turkey, which is also known for its thermal baths. Built on a 120,000 sq meter plot, the five-star hotel is expected to deliver a return in five years. Talks between Korel Group and German and Scandinavian health tourism companies are currently underway to draw in European visitors. That Korel Group is already planning for a second spa hotel is some testimony to the expected returns,
According to Minister of Tourism Atilla Koc, "With 1600 thermal sources, Turkey has the seventh largest thermal resources in the world, but its income from thermal tourism comprise only 1% of its total revenue,". This is for a country, which is ranked first in Europe for its geo-thermal potential. In a bid to increase geo-thermal returns, the ministry is planning to have tens of thousands of new beds to host European visitors over the coming years.
Raising public awareness will also play an important role in attracting foreigners with skin ailments, or those simply in search of a warm deep soak. Turkey's health tourism fair - otherwise known as Healtex - is scheduled to take place in London and Vienna in February, followed by Abu Dhabi. The publicity drive moreover is unlikely to slow. Though, analysts still point to the fact that Turkey's travel agencies need to pull their weight in promoting health tourism to Europeans and Arabs.
Investing in the segment makes a lot of sense too. "You can rely on mass tourism 210 days in Antalya. Winter tourism can last 110 days in the year at the most. Congress and thermal tourism are different because they last throughout the entire year," according to a statement by Koc last year. He added that as many as 41 provinces had the potential of developing into thermal tourist destinations.