A New Kind of Tourist


Economic News

22 Jul 2010
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Despite the recent wave of bombings that have mainly targeted Turkey's Aegean resorts, tourists are still flocking to the southern sandy Mediterranean-Aegean coast in search of sun, sea and relaxation. Turkish tourism is on the up, and it seems nothing can put a damper on growth, as it, and its attractions, break new records. All are now looking to see if this weekend's Istanbul F1 Grand Prix can continue this positive trend.

However, things have not been perfect with a string of bomb attacks claimed by the Kurdish Liberation Hawks (TAK) at a number of tourism resorts in July. The most horrific of these occurred in the popular seaside town of Kusadasi on July 16, when a bomb tore through a mini-bus ferrying tourists from their hotels to a nearby beach, killing five people. Many feared that tourists would stay away as a result - however figures show that quite the opposite is happening.

According to Culture and Tourism Minister Atilla Koc, more than 30m tourists will visit Turkey this year, bringing with them estimated earnings of $18bn for the tourism sector alone. This claim appears backed up by figures in from the first-quarter, which recorded that 2.5m tourists visited the country, up 30% on the same period last year.

Some analysts say that it is no surprise that tourism is up on last year, as figures for 2004 may have been affected by the November 2003 Istanbul bombings, in which some 57 died - including the British consul. The other factor that may have affected tourism in 2004 was the Iraq conflict, as Turkey borders that country on its eastern frontier.

However, 2004 wasn't a bad year at all. In fact, according to the State Institute of Statistics (DIE), more than 17.5m people visited Turkey last year, an increase of 25.7% compared with 2003. These figures are way above the World Tourism Organisation's projections for Turkish tourism in 2010.

Meanwhile, the Turkish authorities have acted strongly against the bombers. On August 15, the alleged leader of Turkey's al-Qaida cell was arrested and charged. This was a huge breakthrough for security forces following the 2003 bombings. The man was arrested on intelligence that an attack was being planned against Israeli cruise liners, all of which were rerouted to Cyprus.

Also on August 15, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan paid a visit to the south-eastern city of Diyarbakir to address the issue of escalating violence in the region.
His statements on using democratic means to overcome violence were broadly welcomed.

While Turkey is battling with the recent upsurge in attacks, these are mostly aimed at military personnel and officials. Tourists remain largely unaffected - plus, as one English tourist visiting Cesme told the leading daily Hurriyet, "Terrorism can strike anywhere, I'd rather be on the beach than sitting at home."

Another reason many choose to come is the fact that it is still relatively cheap when compared with other European destinations. In 2004, a survey published by UK consumer magazine "Holiday" conducted in 21 countries across Europe found that on average, Turkey had the best deal, with a mid-range hotel double room including breakfast for one night in high-season priced at $135, followed by Hungary at $163, Malta at $200 and Portugal at $217.

A recent report issued by German-based TUI, Europe's largest tourism company for 2004-2005, stated that a boom is occurring in the Turkish tourism sector, and the country stands to attract 15% more tourists this year, compared with 2004. In July, the company predicted that Turkey would become one of the most attractive destinations for tourists, placing it above Portugal, Tunisia and Morocco.

So where are the tourists coming from? DIE data shows that 75% of tourists come from countries that are part of the OECD, with 27.6% coming from Eastern European countries alone. In 2004, 22.4% of total tourists visiting Turkey were German, followed by visitors from Russia, the UK, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Iran, France, Greece, Austria, Belgium, Azerbaijan, Italy, Ukraine and the US.

Tourism revenues are a crucial source of foreign currency for Turkey, as it struggles to curb a swelling current account deficit, which hit $15.9bn in 2004. Foreign visitors spent $12.1bn and local tourists spent $3.8bn.

However, these revenues are to some degree limited by the "all-included" system, which remains in force in most Turkish hotels, despite requests for change. The all-inclusive system offers guests breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks as part of the package. Consequently, many guests spend little money outside the resort hotel, and, although convenient for visitors, it does nothing to generate business opportunities for the local community.

Special events are also being targeted to improve Turkey's image abroad, with the Formula 1 Grand Prix a good example of importing an attraction, while the "Fire of Anatolia" dancing group is a good export example. The first ever Istanbul Grand Prix will be run on August 21, and will see 10 teams competing around the 5.3-km track. Murat Yalcintas, the head of the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce, told reporters before the event that he expected the F1 to bring up to $120m in tourism revenue to the city. The government also hopes that Turkey's profile will be further raised thanks to media coverage of the event.

As to the dancing, "Fire of Anatolia" claim a place in the Guinness Book of Records for the number of steps per minute, at 218. The group has been active in appearing to overseas audiences and will also feature as part of the pre-race entertainment at the Istanbul Grand Prix.

So is Turkey overcoming the recent threat to its tourism industry? Tourists seem to think so, while many analysts point to the country riding a worldwide trend, in which tourism has become much less affected by local security issues.

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