Turkish tourism will see full recovery in 2018: Culture Minister Kurtulmuş
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Turkey and its tourism sector has faced serious challenges in recent years, but 2017 saw a recovery in tourist numbers and 2018 will be much better, Culture and Tourism Minister Numan Kurtulmuş has said.
“With 36 million, 2014 was the year when we had had the highest number of tourists. In 2018 I think we will reach that number,” Kurtulmuş told the Hürriyet Daily News in an exclusive interview.
Talk about how Turkey’s tourism sector fared in 2017.
Looking back at the past two years, we have had four major developments: The crisis with Russia, elections in Europe where racism and Islamophobia took the form of hostility against Turkey, serious terror threats both domestically and abroad, and finally the July 2016 military coup attempt. These were all serious challenges that we had to overcome in a short period of time. The number of tourists visiting Turkey fell to 24 million in 2016 but rose to 30.7 million in the last 11 months. By the end of the year this is expected to reach 32 million. So the country’s tourism sector has made a rapid recovery.
What are the reasons behind this accomplishment?
Firstly, the sector has proven its resilience. Secondly, we have taken serious measures against the four developments I mentioned. Relations between Turkey and Russia have recovered and as a result together with Iran the Astana process in Syria was initiated. A successful campaign against terror was undertaken through operations with Russia in the Idlib region of Syria. In addition, significant measures were taken in the fight against the Fetullahist Terror Organization [FETÖ]. And finally the election period in Europe has also shown that when politicians in Europe talk against Turkey it does not necessarily pay off at the ballot box.
Meanwhile, we initiated a third phase in tourism based on the strategy of opening to new markets and diversifying products, from health tourism to faith tourism, from winter tourism to congress tourism.
We have also seen in this process that the language of politics is different to the language of tourism. Looking at the rhetoric used by German politicians, not a single German tourist would have come to Turkey. But tourism has its own rules and around 3.5 million German tourists came to Turkey in 2017.
Do you think there will be total recovery in 2018 in terms of European tourists?
With 36 million, 2014 was the year when we had had the highest number of tourists. In 2018 I think we will reach that number. ABTA, one of Britain’s tourism operators, says it has seen a 66 percent increase in early reservations. While increasing our positive image in our traditional markets we will be opening new doors, especially in the Far East with China, India, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia. Our target in 2018 is to return to past levels and even rise above those levels in our traditional markets, reaching out to new markets in the Far East.
The language of politics matters for China. Is the political environment suitable for an expansion in tourism ties between Turkey and China? Can you say you are receiving positive messages from China on this issue?
We can. The new administration attributes great importance to the One Belt One Road project and sees Turkey’s key position in the west of Asia and east of Europe. So we see serious steps in transportation, energy, economic infrastructure and culture. We will see a similar trend in tourism as well. We see the One Belt One Road project as a peace project, and China sees Turkey as a key to open the door to the European markets. This is a huge advantage in our relations with China.
Will Turkey start welcoming the same amount of European tourists as it did in the past?
In 2018 we will come close to that. The most difficult period has now been left behind and we are experiencing a fast recovery. Numbers from Europe are improving and the negative perception that was established during various election campaigns is fading away.
You named measures against FETÖ as being among the reasons behind the sector’s recovery. But the continuation of the state of emergency, the detention of some Europeans, and the ongoing controversies around emergency decree laws, leads to many hesitations among tourists.
There has been such a perception, but the state of emergency decrees do not at all affect in practice the average person in the street or the tourists coming from abroad. I have seen armed soldiers patrolling in Strasbourg in a very visible way. There is no visible practice of the state of emergency that could irritate foreign tourists. This is a fight taking place against the enemies of the state. We also know that FETÖ has been conducting very serious manipulations abroad. I see that some concerns that emerged after the coup attempt have started to fade away.
There is also the perception about security.
Turkey has been fighting terror groups and we have been getting effective results. Some do not appear in the media but incidents are prevented due to early intelligence. Cross border operations like the Euphrates Shield Operation have been conducted against terror stemming from Iraq and Syria. This will continue. We are getting positive results in this sense.
Some in the tourism sector believe Turkey’s foreign policy has been detrimental to tourism. If I had been working in the sector I would shudder every time I switch on the TV, wondering which politician is now bashing some other country’s politicians.
I don’t agree with the statement on bashing foreign politicians since we are not the ones eager to be part of confrontation with anyone.
The process of reshaping the post-Cold War Middle East, which started with the U.S. invasion of Iraq, is much more important than any development in the region’s last 150 years in terms of the consequences for regional countries. This process is continuing and some forces are pursuing a policy of dividing and disintegrating this region based on ethnic and sectarian lines. We already see the consequences of this by looking at Syria, Iraq, Libya, Lebanon and Yemen. In these circumstances our aim is to further integrate the region – rather than disintegrate it - or at least provide solutions in that direction. The Syrian issue has come to a point where no country, including Russia or the U.S., can have a say alone. So Turkey has to take serious initiatives: How can we have more integration? How can people of different religions, sects or ethnic backgrounds live together? How can we strengthen democratic processes? That’s our main outlook and that is what we need to focus on. I would like to underline that there are important changes in a constructive sense in Turkey’s foreign policy. Turkey has shown that it is starting to become one of the game-maker countries.
We have accomplished a number of results lately. There was backtracking on the referendum that was forced upon the world by [Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government President] Massoud Barzani, thanks to Turkey’s efforts with the cooperation of the Iraqi central government, Iran and Russia. That is something no one could have imagined. The referendum ended up being null and void. Also in Syria, who would have believed two years ago if we said Turkey and Russia, which were at loggerheads not so long ago, would start a joint initiative, the Astana process. With Iran onboard there are now a number of deconfliction zones in Syria.
The role that Turkey has played against the U.S. initiative to make Jerusalem Israel’s capital also shows Turkey’s quality as a game-maker. The members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which have not been united on an issue for a long time, came together in Istanbul and almost all of them accepted a declaration denouncing the U.S. decision. That was followed by the U.N. Security General resolution. Turkey played an important role in both of these processes, not only in the eyes of the region’s people but also in the eyes of Europe this created a positive effect. I think that with these latest developments Turkey’s importance has been understood one more time and this will be positively reflected in our relations, starting with the economy as well as tourism. Turkey cannot totally close the door on Europe and Europe cannot pursue an exclusionary strategy against Turkey.
WHO IS NUMAN KURTULMUŞ?
Numan Kurtulmuş has been Turkey’s culture and tourism minister since July 2017.
Born in 1959 in Ünye near the Black Sea city of Ordu, Kurtulmuş graduated from a religious (imam hatip) high school in Istanbul and studied management at Istanbul University.
He lectured between 1990 and 1993 at Cornell University’s New York State School of Industrial & Labor Relations and became a professor in 2004, lecturing in Istanbul University’s Economy Faculty.
He entered active politics when he became the Istanbul provincial head of Fazilet (Virtue) Party in 1998. He joined Saadet (Felicity) Party following the closure of the Virtue Party in 2001 and was elected as its leader in 2008.
Leaving the Felicity Party, Kurtulmuş formed the Has Party (Voice of the People Party) in 2010, which later joined the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in September 2012. Kurtulmuş then became the deputy leader of the AKP responsible for economic affairs in October 2012.
In August 2014 Kurtulmuş became deputy prime minister in the 62nd cabinet and held that position in the 63th, 64th and 65th cabinets, before he was named culture minister.