This year the new project “Ramadan in Istanbul” aims to increase the number of tourists coming to Istanbul during Ramadan. It is a joint initiative of the Culture Ministry, the Ministry of Development, the Istanbul Governor’s Office, and the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. A meeting to introduce the project and gather public opinion was held recently at the Marmara Hotel. Cumhur Güven Taşbaşı, the head of publicity at the Culture Ministry, announced plans to carry out different projects in Istanbul, supported by advertising campaigns in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Egypt.
“Our goal is to point out the significance of Ramadan and draw tourists from those countries,” Taşbaşı said. There has been a 21 percent increase in the number of the tourists visiting Istanbul, he said, adding that this tourism should be varied and spread out over the whole year.
During Ramadan, as part of the new project, the Culture Ministry’s jazz orchestra will give four concerts as part of the event Jazz in Ramadan.
Kadir Topbaş, the mayor of Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, said Istanbul is a unique place that affects the whole world. “In 2004, the number of tourists visiting Istanbul was not even three million, but now it has risen to nine to 10 million,” he said. “To take advantage of new opportunities, we initiated Ramadan in Istanbul.” Religious tourism has a particularly significant place in the Islamic world, Topbaş said. “After seeing the increase in [tourist] numbers, we thought it would be logical to start this event.”
Istanbul is becoming an important tourism destination, according to Başaran Ulusoy, head of the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TÜRSAB). “Tourists from the Middle East used to come to Turkey only in the summer season, but now they have their vacations in the winter and spring as well,” said Timur Bayındır, the head of the Touristic Hotel Managers and Investors Association. Bayındır added that the industry hoped to attract more tourists with Ramadan in Istanbul, and “it turned out to be a success.” As part of the Ramadan event, many stores will remain open at night, he said.
The number of tourists is expected to increase 15 percent. Arab countries, the Middle East, southern Europe, Africa and the Balkans are especially targeted within the scope of the project. Activities will be held in places such as Sultanahmet, Feshane, and Beyazıt. Concerts of Turkish classical music, poetry, and janissary bands will take place for entertainment of domestic and foreign tourists, and mosques on the peninsula will remain open until the late at night. The Istanbul Symphony Orchestra will give a special concert on the coast at Caddebostan, while the religious figures read from the Quran. Many shopping malls will remain open until 11 p.m. weekdays and 12 a.m. weekends.
Arabs flock to Istanbul
Every year, the number of the Arab tourists visiting Istanbul in Ramadan is increasing. Last year a 20 percent rise in Arab tourists was seen compared to tha previous year and this year even more are expected. The “Ramadan in Istanbul” international project, organized to overcome the recession during Ramadan, and “Ramadan Istanbul,” the combination of art, culture and world cuisine events, are thought to have contributed to the rise in numbers, with the support of the 2010 European Cultural Capital Agency.
Istanbul Culture and Tourism Directorate’s data show that 50,000 Arab tourists visited Istanbul in the Ramadan of 2010, however last year the figure rose to 62,000. Meanwhile, in the first six months of this year a drastic increase (71.2 percent) of the number of Arab tourists was also seen.
While the first half of 2011 hosted 346,598 Arab visitors in Turkey, in the same time period this year the numbers went up to 593,423. In 2009, Arab tourists held a 9.3 percent share in the total number of tourists, this percentage increased to 10 percent in 2010 and 11 percent in 2011, while the percentage was 14 percent from January to June 2012. In the first half of this year, out of a total number of 4,231,419 foreign tourists visiting Istanbul, 593,423 were Arabs.