Our tourism sector, which is struggling amid a severe crisis, is now experiencing total chaos because of the ban on the hotel reservation website booking.com that came as the result of a case opened by the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TURSAB).
Operating in more than 200 countries, booking.com is a website that allows vacationers to book hotels or guesthouses. TURSAB sued the Dutch-based site on the grounds that it created an environment of unfair competition, didn’t pay taxes and continuously increased its commission.
While it is rumored that TURSAB will resort to similar practices against companies such as Spain’s expedia.com, Germany’s trivago.com and the United States’ tripadvisor.com, hotel managers and owners are disgruntled.
According to newspaper reports, the head of the Bodrum Professional Hotel Executives Association (BOYD), Serdar Karcılıoğlu, defined the banning of booking.com in Turkey as “hara-kiri.” He claimed there was no other country like Turkey in the world that has shot itself in the foot in such a fashion. “While tourism professionals are struggling to survive, they have received a major blow,” he said.
According to Karcılıoğlu, TURSAB is out to protect the interests of agencies, but this initiative will harm hotels the most; boutique hotels will especially face bankruptcy with this development. “Our communication with booking.com should not be disrupted. This website is not forcing anybody to do anything. Everyone has a page there; the prices are set daily. All reservations through this site have stopped for the moment. The sector has received a major blow,” the hotel professional justifiably complains.
A colleague noted that it is not only booking.com that has been the victim of the digital economy in Turkey.
For instance, Uber has been operating in Turkey for two years, serving as a private vehicle call service from mobile phones. We read in papers that Uber vehicles were treated as “pirate taxies” and fined and even towed. Even passengers in Uber were fined, reports said.
Uber Turkey representative Neyran Bahadırlı told me last summer that Uber was operating in 70 countries with 1.5 million active drivers serving more than 50 passengers. They were rapidly developing in Turkey and covering more cities.
She said the number of Uber drivers in Turkey, which is currently close to 2,000, will rapidly increase. I am wondering how Uber, whose current value is around $68 billion, will grow in Turkey under these circumstances.
Home rental website Airbnb is also closely monitored by both the Finance Ministry and TURSAB. Airbnb is renting homes and rooms in more than 191 countries; it has a current value of around $31 billion.
On the other hand, PayPal, which is an international secure payment system with or without using a credit card, has not been able to operate in Turkey since last June. PayPal is worth $53 billion and it has not been able to obtain a license from the Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BDDK).
It is easy to ban all these things due to “unfair competition.”
But the real issue is to increase the competitive power of Turkey, which is constantly falling behind in the Global Competitiveness Index.