EMRE DELİVELİ > All quiet on the (south) western front

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It really is all quiet in Marmaris, where I am writing this column.

After a stellar start to the season, tourist arrivals dropped off sharply in the second half of July, and most hotels are only one-half to two-thirds full. As a result, not only hotels, bars and restaurants, but many other businesses that depend on the “industry without a chimney,” as tourism is affectionately called in Turkey, are suffering as well. I was the sole customer at my neighborhood barbershop today.

There is of course the Ramadan effect: Many Turks do not vacation in the holy month. But there has also been a decline in visitors from the United Kingdom, who make up the bulk of tourists in Marmaris, as you can see from bars with such creative names as “Anfield” and “Old Trafford” as well as tattoo parlors offering to brand British holiday-makers with the insignia of their favorite football team -- nothing compared to your friendly neighborhood economist’s black eagle.

If other summer destinations are in a similar situation, the earlier pick-up in tourist arrivals might have come to a halt. From January to April, international arrivals contracted 5.5 percent compared to the same period in 2011. In the same four months, global tourist arrivals were up 5.4 percent, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). After dropping 1.5 percent in May, Turkish arrivals finally rose 2.7 percent in June.

Even if yearly growth numbers turn out to be in positive territory for the rest of the year, the expected surge in tourism won’t materialize. Many in the sector were claiming Turkey would snatch a lot of business from Greece. Travelers did indeed avoid Greece after the social unrest, and tour operators are shunning Greek hotels, for fear that a return to the drachma would result in mayhem, but it seems the missing Greek-bound tourists have not ended up in Turkey.

This story reminds me of last year, when everyone was arguing that Turkey would steal scores of tourists from Egypt, thanks to the Arab Spring and Mossad-trained sharks attacking swimmers. That did not materialize, either, as the tourists who visit Sharm el-Sheikh and the Turkish Riviera are very different.

In any event, I am perplexed by this obsession with arrivals numbers. For example, it was touted as a huge success when Turkey climbed one place to sixth in UNWTO 2011 ranking by international tourist arrivals. I think the more interesting statistic is receipts, where Turkey comes in twelfth. This means the country is earning less from each tourist in comparison to other top destinations.

Unfortunately, revenues per tourist have been on a downward trend for a while. Rather than trying to find solutions to Turkey’s emergence as low-cost travel destination, Minister of Tourism (and Culture, too!) Ertuğrul Günay recently declared he was aiming for 33 million tourists and $25 billion in revenues for 2012.

Twelve-month rolling arrivals have passed the 31 million mark, and yearly revenues are at $18.5 billion. If Turkey were to hit Günay’s ambitious targets, it would earn $758 per tourist. The country last had this annual per-person revenue number two years ago.

That would be tough to achieve without a real plan.


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The Prisoner

8/10/2012 10:47:07 AM

One of the reasons that Marmaris is so quiet (along with Icmeler,and especially Turunc) is that people are fed up with the poor quality and hassle from the businesses (owned mainly by Eastern Turks) and are looking for a bit more sophistication when shelling out good money.

Pat Yale

8/6/2012 9:45:58 PM

In the UK Turkey was always marketed as a cheap destination and so attracted low spenders. Plus there is an economic crisis on in much of the world which means that people cut back their spending and trade down wherever possible. Of course the all-inclusive hotels don't help but it is unlikely things will pick up much until the tourist-generating countries feel more comfortable. And I hate to be a pain but as soon as the Olympics are over headline news will be Syria which is not going to help.


8/6/2012 7:57:05 PM

@MR you seem to have a thing about the tax revenues not being collected from foreign owners who rent out villas to holidaymakers. Firstly – whose fault is that? And secondly I would think that the loss in tax here is insignificant compared to the practices I have seen go on between citizens of this country.


8/6/2012 7:27:25 PM

@DKI. Not very EU PC subsidising stuff. Lower the airport taxes and stop holiday airports from charging 10 times the going rate for a half litre of water (5TL). Stop the 10 pound visa charge.


8/6/2012 7:24:31 PM

@MA I can assure you many owners pay taxes on their rental incomes. Tax inspectors actually knock on doors and ask holiday renters how much they are paying and even if the money was paid in the UK it is subject to tax here. Also I disagree that they don't use bars and restaurants, I think the all inclusive hotel clients spend less in the local area than self catering holidaymakers.

Maria Roberts

8/6/2012 5:21:29 PM

DKI & Emre - the trouble with a government subsidy on air travel, apart from prohibition under international law, is how the govt recoups the money. You suggest hotel owners & pansiyon owners be taxed at an even higher rate. So in effect, the poor old Turkish hotel owners would be subsidising cheap flights for those people renting foreign-owned villas, where the rental income never enters Turkey!

Maria Roberts

8/6/2012 4:24:43 PM

Red Tail, yes of course the house has been paid for and that money has come into Turkey, but this article isn't about the real estate & construction sector, it's about income from tourism. And once a foreigner has bought his house, there is very little subsequent TOURIST income into Turkey - even the actual rental money is usually paid to the foreign owner by credit card or bank transfer to his bank overseas. Turkey never sees it. ıf a Turk rents out his house, the rent is paid in Turkey.

V Tiger

8/6/2012 2:31:40 PM

Olympics & very poor economic conditions in UK & Europe,increase in UK's airport taxes.

Owen Barron

8/6/2012 2:06:43 PM

I think low revenues are partly due to an insistence on low-cost all-inclusive packages. Hotels are competing for the attention of budget-conscious Europeans, so they focus on the headline price offer enough built-in amenities to catch the customer's eye. That's how you get the massive resorts which people never leave. Meanwhile, there's little investment in the towns which the resorts are based in, so people have no incentive to go out anyway. Only way to solve it is to invest in destinations.

Red Tail

8/6/2012 11:53:04 AM

Maria Roberts. The house bought by a foreigner has been paid for. It has also been built by Turkish workers, so the purchase creates work for construction workers, shops, and other services such as cleaning, restaurants, car rental firms etc etc. There is no difference if a foreigner buys a house and rent out or if a Turk rents out his house. The only difference is that the foreigner has brough a huge amount from abroad to pay for the house.
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