Turkey: Looking east in tourism

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Long-regarded as an affordable getaway for European tourists seeking the sun in the coastal resorts of Antalya, Bodrum or Marmaris, Turkey is starting to draw rising numbers of visitors from the Middle East region.

The Arab Spring has led to an upswing in tourists from the Middle East choosing perceived safer destinations on the region’s periphery, and Turkey is proving to be one of the beneficiaries. According to the UN World Tourism Organisation, international tourist arrivals in the Middle East declined by 8.4% to 54.8m in 2011, but tourist flows from Egypt to Turkey are estimated to have increased by 400% in 2011, according to Agence France-Presse.

The rise in tourists from the Middle East is also the result of concerted efforts on the part of those involved in Turkey’s tourism sector. The Western Black Sea Promotional Tour organised by the Turkish-Middle East Tourism Council in late April, for example, invited tourism officials from the Gulf states of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and the UAE to visit the provinces of Sinop and Kastamonu in the north of the country.

For Gulf tourists, Turkey is attractive not only as a destination in its own right but also due to its close historical, cultural and religious ties to the Middle East region as a Muslim nation. The Black Sea’s verdant landscapes and lower summer temperatures are also a major draw.

While the number of tourists from the Gulf is increasing, Turkey still relies on mainland Europe as the source of a significant number of visitors every year. Culture & Tourism Ministry data shows that the majority of visitors come from Germany, with 4.67m German tourists arriving in the country between January and November 2011. Second in line are Russians, with 3.42m visiting in 2011. Visitors from the UK were ranked third, and other nationalities included Iranians, Bulgarians, Dutch, French, Georgians and Americans.

Up to 33m tourists are expected to visit Turkey in 2012, the culture and tourism minister, Ertuğrul Günay, told Anatolia News Agency in April, with tourism receipts estimated to rise to $25bn. While a drop is expected in the number of visitors arriving from Syria (given the ongoing civil conflict) and from Europe (due to the economic crisis), the country’s tourism sector has proved resilient over the last few years.

Indeed, Turkey continues to be a heavy hitter on the world tourism stage, ranking 14th out of 181 countries surveyed by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC). Revenues earned from travel and tourism directly contributed TL55.1bn ($30.2bn) to the country’s economy in 2011, representing 4.3% of GDP. This contribution is expected to rise by 1.7% in 2012 and by 2.9% per year from 2012 to 2022 to TL74.4bn ($40.8bn).

If one takes into account the total contribution made by travel and tourism to the economy and its indirect effect on hotel construction and airline revenues, for example, the figure is far higher, with tourism accounting for 10.9% of GDP and revenues put at TL141.8bn ($77.7bn) by the WTTC. This total contribution is set to rise by 3% per year to TL195bn ($107bn) by 2022.

The tourism sector is also an important source of employment. The total contribution in terms of number of jobs, including those indirectly supported by the travel and tourism industry, came to 1.9m in 2011, accounting for 8.1% of total employment. This is set to rise by 3.4% in 2012 to 2m and by 1.4% per year to 2.3m jobs by 2022.

The government recognises the important role tourism plays in the national economy, which is why the Culture & Tourism Ministry’s Tourism Strategy 2023 seeks a more comprehensive and sustainable approach to planning, investments, infrastructure, organisation, training and domestic tourism. Promoting and marketing the country to new audiences is also part of the strategy. Under the 2023 plan, boosting the country’s share of the tourism market in the Middle East, Turkish-speaking parts of Central Asia and Iran is clearly outlined. Specific promotional campaigns targeting these regions and countries are all part of the overall strategy.

Acting as a gateway to Asia, Turkey has always managed to attract large numbers of European tourists to its cultural sites in Istanbul, archaeological sites across the country and its beach resorts, which attract large crowds over the summer months. Germans and Russians have topped the visitor numbers in recent years, but increasing numbers of tourists from Egypt and the Gulf make this a fast-developing segment.

By 2023 Turkey hopes to be one of the top five global tourist destinations, and boosting its market share in the Middle East forms part of this plan. Rather like the country’s evolving foreign policy, which seeks stronger political and economic ties with Middle East states, the Culture & Tourism Ministry is also reaching out to the Gulf states, emphasising its shared cultural and religious traditions to attract more visitors from the region.

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