Turkey is a renowned destination for international holidaymakers and business travellers, yet one of the outstanding successes of recent years has been the rise of domestic tourism – Turks holidaying at home and, increasingly, of travelling abroad. This trend is set to continue too, as economic growth makes a vacation all the more possible for the country’s citizens. After many years of restricted and expensive travel, pent-up demand for seeing the world is also a key factor.

The Numbers Game

Average income levels have risen dramatically over the last decade as the economy has grown. Figures released by the World Bank show GDP per capita at current prices standing at €4543 in 2000, rising to €5701 in 2005 and €7584 by 2010, respectively. The latest World Bank statistics put the figure for 2011 at €7565, while the Turkish Ministry of Development set the current, early 2013 figure at around the same level. Over the same period, the economy has grown from a GDP of €289.07bn in 2000 to €388.46bn in 2005 and €551.72bn in 2010. For 2011, the World Bank shows a figure of €557.06bn, with 2012 likely to see around 3.5% growth on this.

Regional variations show that average incomes to differ markedly across the country. Recent data was unavailable at the time of writing, but figures from Turkstat, the government statistical institute, show that from 2007-08 per capita value added in Istanbul, the wealthiest region, was around four to five times higher than in the country’s poorest areas, all in the far southeast. Per capita income in Istanbul may even be twice the national average. Thus, with more disposable income in their pockets, Turks have been increasing their spending. This has notably affected the retail segment (see Industry & Retail chapter) and other economic activities such as tourism. “Domestic tourism is increasing fast,” Sinan Haliç, treasurer of the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies, told OBG. “Turkish outgoing tourism will likely be in a good position too for the next 10-15 years, especially as Turkish Airlines (THY) expands and our airports become international hubs,” he added.

Flying High

Indeed, THY, the partially state-owned carrier, has seen its fleet expand from 72 planes in 2000 to 173 in 2011, then 200 as of November 2012. Other airlines added a further 162 planes to the national total in 2011, according to data from the Turkish Private Air Carriers Association and THY.

THY has also added many new routes – 32 in 2012 alone – with the airline now serving 37 domestic and 182 global destinations. This is helping to establish Turkey, and Istanbul in particular, as a centre for travel elsewhere, further enhancing foreign arrivals, while also providing Turks with many more overseas options.

As such, the numbers of Turks on the move has been growing steadily. Turkstat figures show that the number of citizens departing the country stood at 4.86m in 2001, rising to 8.25m in 2005, 11.64m in 2011 and 11.86m in 2012, respectively. While many of these are not tourists, but travelling for business or family reasons – many Turks have relatives in Germany, for instance – the overall trend remains clear.

One indicator of the rapid domestic tourism growth are the Turkstat figures for the number of overnight stays and average number of overnight stays spent by Turkish citizens in establishments licensed by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism (MoCT) or local municipalities. This shows some 510,961 overnights in 2009, with an average of 8.4, rising to 558,270 in 2011, and an average of 8.5. Data for all of 2012 was not available at the time of publication, but during the third-quarter period for 2012, a total of 465,354 overnights were spent, averaging 8.47, a solid figure given 2012’s economic slowdown and reduced bank lending.

The development of domestic tourism is an explicit aim of the government’s Tourism Strategy 2023 master plan. A domestic tourism unit has been established at the MoCT, with support given to travel agents to expand their domestic tourism packages, including benefits for those undertaking programmed tours for Turkish students and other young people, which capitalises on the country’s largely youthful demographic.