Festival boosts Cappadocia tourism
The tourism crisis has naturally also hit one of Turkey’s first touristic regions, Cappadocia. I was in Cappadocia to see a close friend’s newly-bought house in one of its villages, and to participate in the Cappadox Festival.
The Cappadox Festival spreads to Uçhisar, Avanos and Göreme with concerts, shows, contemporary art activities and open-air hikes. It has brought dynamism to the region for four days.
The festival was organized by Pozitif of Doğuş Group. The group three years ago partnered with Argos in Cappadocia Hotel in Uçhisar, which was a meeting point for famous CEOs, businesspeople and artists. The 51-room Argos in Cappadocia has been elected the “Most beautiful Historic Luxury Hotel in the World.”
One of the small partners of the hotel for 15 years, Mehmet Özkılıç, spoke about tourism in Cappadocia. He has been a tourism executive and an investor for 40 years. He knows the history and mythology of the region very well.
Özkılıç said Cappadocia went under the West’s spotlight with the drawings of French travelers in the 19th century of fairy chimneys. It was discovered in the 1960s again by the French.
The first Club Med in Turkey was opened in Cappadocia in 1968. Also in those years European hippies transited in Cappadocia after their first stop in Istanbul on their way to Katmandu. The film “Medea,” directed by Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini featuring Maria Callas in the 1970s, has “boosted tourism here,” Özkılıç said. After the shooting of this film, Cappadocia became a favorite for many famous directors. Özkılıç himself played the role of a taxi driver about 20 years ago in a film directed by French director Clause Lelouch in Cappadocia.
Just as many popular Turkish TV series, the film “Winter Sleep” by director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, which won many film awards, was shot in Cappadocia.
No doubt, Cappadocia is a tourism brand in the world and in Turkey.
However, today most of the hotels function below 50 percent of their capacity. The Kistar Hotel, which only has 12 rooms and has a wonderful view of fairy chimneys, has a 30-percent rate of occupancy, for instance.
“Cappadocia is a brand but we are not using it well. I would have expected it to pass the tourism crisis with much less damage. The tourism of Cappadocia, which grew an average 8 percent annually between the years 1985 and 2015, is at a standstill now,” Özkılıç said.
As a person who has been in the tourism business for 40 years, Özkılıç criticized that Cappadocia did not have a master plan. “The biggest advantage of the region is that there has been tourism here all year round. We cannot use this advantage because we do not have a master plan. The cultural assets inventory of Cappadocia is not complete. We do not know how many churches there are exactly,” he added.
We always hear about 400 churches, but it is of course surprising that it is not known as the true number.
According to Özkılıç, one reason for the fluctuating crisis in tourism is investments done without any coordination. “Göreme has a population of 2,000; the number of hotels is almost 300. There are 56 travel agencies and 25 hot air balloon agencies.”
The unfortunate hot air balloon accidents that came one after the other in the past months are undoubtedly a reason for this uncoordinated growth.
Cappadox Festival is a new breath for the region, Özkılıç believes. “The most important part is that Doğus Group introduced to the region the know-how of how such activities should be held.”