Balloon ride consortium under scrutiny in Cappadocia
Jale Özgentürk – ISTANBUL
A company’s consolidation of some 19 hot air balloon companies has come under scrutiny for breaking down free and fair competition for the popular rides over the Cappadocia region’s spectacular rock formations.
By establishing such a consortium (a group of companies that work together), the company – Dorak Tourism - thereby enjoys a monopoly, say many regional tourism actors in the Central Anatolian province of Nevşehir.
The Cappadocia region is the most popular location in the world for hot air ballooning.
Last year, over half of the world’s balloon trips took place in the region, with about half a million people taking to the skies.
Dorak Tourism last year brought together the 19 balloon companies under one roof. The move prompted questions whether the free market is functioning in the region. The Turkish Competition Authority has even got involved and is currently looking into the situation.
Some tourism players have said that balloon companies that not part of Dorak Tourism’s consortium have been prevented from providing the service. There are 25 registered balloon companies in the region, 19 of which are members of the consortium.
The region has 239 registered balloons, with up to 150 balloons flying on any given day. It is also one of the few places in the world where tourists can balloon almost year-round.
Dorak Tourism - which is the subject of the Competition Authority’s Dec. The 19-dated investigation also owns hotels and tourism agencies.
The investigation is also looking into allegations that Dorak Tourism is denying balloon ride services to tourists who are not staying at its own hotels and using its tourism agencies. Some tourists reportedly paid the balloon fee but were not accepted for the ride.
“The reservations of the tourists, who booked [their balloon ride] before coming here and paid their fee, are being canceled reasonless. There are many tourists who have suffered. The balloon ride prices started to be determined as if through an auction. This turned into a stock market; there are even prices that go up to as much as $600,” said some of the tourism players.
A ride normally runs about 200 euros per person on average.
A total of 537,500 tourists took the hot air balloon rides in 2018, boosting tourism revenue of the country by almost 70 million euros ($80 million).
The number of tourists who came to the region increased by 63 percent in 2018 compared with the previous year, according to data by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation.
Cappadocia is preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage site and is famous for its “fairy chimney” rocks, hot air balloon trips, underground cities and boutique “cave” hotels carved into rocks.
The Turkish Parliament recently ratified a bill that aims to protect the region.
With the bill approved, the Cappadocia Field Authority will be established, and it will be entitled to protect the historical, cultural and natural pattern of the region.
Among other responsibilities, the authority will have the power to demolish buildings that were illegally constructed in the region.
It will also be authorized in the sales, renting and restoration of public buildings in the Cappadocia.
Every kind of decision that concerns the region will be taken by this new commission.
Some tourism players, however, believe the new governmental body might not be conducive to the region.
They told daily Hürriyet that the local governor is in charge of the unit so every time the governor changes, the system will “limp.” They said that the new structure bypasses local municipalities and that nongovernmental organizations in the area should be also consulted regarding any decisions concerning the region.