Expo to boost Antalya’s brand as sustainable project
Barçın Yinanç - firstname.lastname@example.orgExpo 2016 Antalya, which opened its doors last weekend, will provide a big boost to tourism in the city amid a precipitous drop in the number of tourists coming to Turkey, according to Antalya Metropolitan Mayor Menderes Türel.
As a sustainable project, Expo 2016 Antalya will continue to serve as a botanic park after it ends, thus boosting the city’s brand, Türel told the Hürriyet Daily News.
What are your expectations from Expo 2016?
It is currently Turkey’s biggest project. The total investment inside the expo area amounts to 1.8 million liras. Investments were also made on the expo area, such as the rail system, the rehabilitation of the Aksu River and the like. So the budget is nearly two or three times the budgets of the Mediterranean Games held in Mersin, the Erzurum Winter Universiade or the European Youth Olympic Festival in Trabzon. And by contrast, there, the events lasted for a week or 10 days and afterwards, we were mulling what to do with the facilities. Expo, on the other hand, is a sustainable project. It will last six months, but we intentionally did not opt for the big [world] expo since they are then dismantled after six months. Instead, we opted for the thematic expo, as they go on even when their official time is over. They continue forever as a very important center of attraction.
What do you think will differentiate Expo 2016 Antalya from the rest?
As far as the number of participating countries, it is the highest after Osaka in 1990. Such an interest shown in Antalya, especially at a time there are so many negative developments in the world, is a real source of morale for us. At a time when the world so desperately needs messages of peace, some of the 53 visiting countries who have strains in their relations will stand side by side in a park, contributing to world peace. This is going to be a true festival of civilizations.
How do you think the expo will contribute to Antalya’s tourism season since it will be a difficult one, due to the decrease in the number of Russian and German tourists?
It will be tremendous. We are worldwide at a time when travel habits are changing and fewer people are willing to travel. In such times, the expo will be the strongest asset Antalya can offer. I am expecting at least 5 million tourists to visit it.
Meanwhile, while the number of those coming from certain markets is decreasing, the number of tourists coming from other markets are increasing, especially in terms of certain countries. So the expo will be like a life jacket at a time when tourism is experiencing turbulence.
Isn’t there a problem with the promotion of the expo? You hardly see any promotion activity in Istanbul, for instance.
For events such as this, excitement starts toward the end. The Europeans, for instance, are more used to early reservations but even with them, there is also a tendency for last-minute reservations. We also had to start promotion activities toward the beginning of the expo; starting it earlier meant it might have dropped from the agenda by the time it started.
You also expect foreign tourists at the expo?
I don’t want to give ambitious numbers, but 5 million domestic and foreign tourists would be the minimum. At the end, you are going to say that Menderes Türel was quiet cautious in his projections.
Security concerns have been affecting travel habits. How do you evaluate Antalya in terms of security?
One German tour operator’s sales have dropped 9 percent; it’s not just sales for trips to Turkey but to all over the world [that are falling]. In terms of security, we do not have such a problem. I don’t think it’s correct to bring the security issue to the agenda in the framework of Antalya’s tourism. Antalya has nothing to do with the security issue, and this is apparent with all the events we have been conducting in the city, starting with the G-20 summit [held last November]. In May, we will organize the meeting of the strong cities network, a U.N. initiative where we will be hosting mayors from at least 15 of the most important capitals in the world. We will also host the least developed countries summit as well. I don’t think we should even talk about the security issue at all.
What will happen after six months when the expo officially ends?
It will continue in the same way. But it will continue as a botanical park. We want to continue the gardens of the countries if they wish to continue them as well. We could provide certain incentives, like providing accommodation. But the expo does not just mean country gardens; there are several other attractions inside the expo area. There will be a congress center with a capacity for 9,500, making it the biggest in Europe.
There is a biodiversity and agriculture museum and a culture and art street. As the theme is flower and children, there are several activity centers for kids, like a science center, space center simulator and digital library. These centers will continue their functions.
This is, above all, a green project. There is a 600,000-square-meter green space; 5 million flowers have been planted. Some 25,000 trees from 120 different species have been planted. Some 108 plant structures have been made using 700,000 plants. We will continue to maintain expo as a center of attraction.
What is your projection for this year’s tourism season?
It would be too ambitious to say we will reach the same number of tourists as last year. There are markets in which we have advantages and markets in which we have disadvantages. There are serious drops in the number of tourists coming from certain countries like Russia. But there is a serious increase in the number of tourists coming from Israel and Iran.
What is your view about the measures that the government has taken to support the tourism sector?
The government has taken very important measures and they are very much the right ones. In line with the demands of the tourism sector, the government provided a support scheme for the low season by introducing a decrease in insurance for the three months. In addition, salaries will be paid for these three months by the Turkish Employment Association (İŞKUR), which was not a demand voiced by the representatives of the sector. So this came as a bonus. The fuel subsidy for each airplane carrying tourists to Turkey has been extended.
So the support provided by the government is beyond expectations. The tourism minister has been working on this issue day and night since he has assumed this responsibility. The interest shown by the government in the sector at a time when it is experiencing turbulence is very important.
Not everything should be expected from the state. What are your efforts as the municipality?
Our main mission is infrastructure and superstructure. But obviously we can’t remain indifferent to the problems of the tourism sector. I usually say I am the biggest tourism investor of Antalya since the tourism-oriented investments of the municipality are way beyond those of the private sector. We have so many wastewater treatment facilities, for instance. If today not even one drop of wastewater is going into the sea, this is thanks to us.
We are, however, also supporting the promotion efforts. We are starting a destination promotion campaign in seven European countries. Together with representatives of the sector and the support of the Promotion Agency, we are going on a European tour.
Is the tourism sector paying the cost of Turkey’s foreign policies?
That’s not the right approach. There is a disinformation campaign against Turkey. Whenever Turkey makes progress, there are such campaigns. All this shows that we are on the right track.
Who is Menderes Türel?
Menderes Türel was born in Antalya in 1964. After completing his primary, secondary and high school education in Antalya, he studied journalism in England before returning to work as a journalist in his hometown.
In 1992, he was elected as a council member of the Antalya Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ATSO). He then served as vice chairman of the board between 1987 and 1999 and as chairman between 2001 and 2004.
He was elected as mayor of Antalya Metropolitan Municipality in the 2004 local elections. He was not re-elected in the 2009 elections.
In the general elections of June 12, 2011, he was elected as a Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputy for Antalya. He served as AKP deputy chairman in charge of local governments and a member of the Central Decision of the Board of Directors and the Central Executive Committee.
He was again elected mayor of Antalya Metropolitan Municipality in the 2014 local elections.