Europe ‘still top market’ for Turkish travel companies: TÜRSAB chair
BARÇIN YİNANÇ - firstname.lastname@example.org
Europe will remain as a top market for Turkish tourism industry despite a growing interest in attracting visitors from the Far East, according to Firuz B. Bağlıkaya, the president of Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TÜRSAB).
“I am not sure if we can attract several million from the Far East market as we are doing from Europe,” he told Hürriyet Daily News in a recent interview.
“Eighty percent of touristic movements take place in their own region, so Europe will always remain our main market.”
On the recovery of the industry, Bağlıkaya said the country is set for historic a record in number of visitors but the revenues tend to pick up in a rather slower pace.
Government incentives have also helped the sector overcome a difficult period, he added.
How is the touristic season going?
No surprises. We were targeting 38 million and now we have increased that target to 40 million tourists. Sixteen million tourists came to Turkey in the first six months and with high season in the second half, we will reach the target of 40 million with $32 billion revenue. It inspires hope for the future to have this historic record after a catastrophic 2016.
How do you explain this quick recovery?
With the dynamism of the sector as well as the incentives introduced by the government, the most effective among them has been charter flight subsidies. Important touches have been added to help tour operators sail in stormy weather. A $6,000 subsidy for charter flights was a serious contribution and as travel packages became cheaper, Turkey’s prices became more attractive among the international competition.
Credit guarantee funds have also been very effective. The sector needed to be shouldered during difficult times and this has been done by the government with the right timing and the right measures to the right stakeholders. With that motivation, the sector never pulled back; it was on its business all the time. It worked as if nothing happened.
There is a reflex that has come with being in the business for years and being accustomed to working in a turbulent region and competitive environment. The sector has developed the reflex of overcoming crises; it has the advantage to downsize quickly and pick up growth quickly.
How is the high rise in foreign currency affecting the sector?
There is nothing negative or positive about it. Our sales were made last year. No one is currently increasing prices or lowering them because of the situation of foreign exchange rates. Maybe shopping has become more attractive for tourists in Turkey but nothing remains cheap; prices are adjusted.
So, the current levels of currency will neither decrease nor increase the number of tourists.
Do we see also improvement in the desired segments like tourists with higher spending power?
We are a country of mass tourism. If we are talking about numbers like 40 million, that cannot be a niche market. Our expectations have been met when looking at mainstream sun, sea, and sand tourism. In terms of individual spending, it is true we are lagging behind. But if we are to recall the situation in 2016; packages that were even cheaper than a flight ticket could not be sold and that is not that long ago. We will catch up the past revenue levels in a few years.
In other segments, going back to past levels does not happen that fast. Currently, congress tourism for 2020 is being marketed; cruisers announce their programs two years ahead; sports activities, as well concerts, are planned one or two years in advance. So, it will take time to redirect these events to Turkey and it will also take time for tourists with higher spending levels to come back. But we will get there.
Do you think Turkey may suffer from an image of a country of cheap vacationers?
Whatever our image was 10 years ago, it is still the same; there is no major difference. We are a country that aspires to provide all types of tourism to all segments; and we already do that. We have tourists from high segments as well.
But you said we still have the same image based on sun, sea, and sand tourism?
Is Turkey cheap? It depends where you go. We have hotels for $1,000 a night as well as $80 a night. No doubt we still have some difficulty attracting tourists from other segments. But as I said, we have not been holding events for some time. Shakira’s concert took place only recently.
Then again, we are a country of mass tourism. Of the 16 million tourists, 11 million have come to Antalya and Istanbul. These cities are offering holidays. When you are talking about millions of tourists, you cannot expect it to be five-star.
But we have the potential to attract high spending tourists.
Do you think the negative perception in Europe about democratic deficit in Turkey still affects tourism?
There is such a perception; this propaganda has been ongoing for years. That does slow the flow of visitors. Germany had kept a travel warning for a long time. But we are breaking a record this year in the German market. This shows us people are no longer taking the poker game played between their governments or the political showdowns serious; unless there is something very serious.
In 2016, very serious incidents took place: Attacks, an assassination, a coup attempt. All of these happened, this is not about perception. But we have recovered and what countries say about us is not that influential.
What are the priorities in terms of attracting tourists from the Far East?
China is a different market, one which we have not been receiving tourists from. We usually attract tourists from Europe, our own region. China has big potential. But we have difficulty in terms of transportation. The number of reciprocal flights are not sufficient. There is serious work to increase this number. We believe we can catch an opportunity with the opening of the new airport.
There has been a 93 percent rise in the number of tourists from China. Some 200,000 Chinese tourists have come in the first six months. We are trying to raise that number to 500,000 this year. India is another priority. But I am not sure if we can attract several million from the Far East market as we are doing from Europe.
Eighty percent of touristic movements take place in their own region, so Europe will always remain our main market. That does not mean we should neglect the Far East. On the contrary, we have seen the importance of diversification in 2016.
How do you explain TÜRSAB’s decision to take legal action against 20 other online reservation and travel portals, following the blocking of Booking.com?
These are companies that have opened offices in Turkey and have Turkish employees. They work here but do not pay taxes. The fact that they do not pay taxes is a matter for the Finance Ministry. But there is a legal obligation for them to be our member. They cannot operate without being our member. So, it is our official obligation to inform the official authorities. Whether they are blocked or not is not my problem and not my decision. But they are creating unfair competition.
It is our official duty to inform authorities when there is unfair competition and we do that for our (Turkish) members who cause unfair competition. These websites can sell their products abroad to Turkish customers and foreigners can use these websites for any Turkish product. The limitation is about selling Turkish products to Turkish customers. We are also doing this to protect the rights of the customers. The services provided by these websites need to be monitored. How can we do that if they are not our members?
There are also a lot of complaints about tourists being duped by taxi drivers as they charge double or triple the transfer fare.
The moment we face such incidents, we take immediate action and cancel their license.
WHO IS FİRUZ B BAĞLIKAYA?
Firuz B. Bağlıkaya has been the president of the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TÜRSAB) since February.
He graduated from Ankara Hotel Management and Tourism Vocational High School and completed his undergraduate studies in English at the Ankara University School of Foreign Languages. In 1975, he started to work in the hotel industry while continuing his studies in Germany.
He started his career in the travel agency sector in 1985. In 1995, he became the managing director at Detur International.
In addition, Bağlıkaya is an executive board member at the Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEİK) and the president of Assembly of Travel Agencies and Tourist Guides at the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB).