Iraqi Kurds ‘new Russians’ for Turkish tourism spots

Iraqi Kurds ‘new Russians’ for Turkish tourism spots

Ceyhun Kuburlu ISTANBUL / Hürriyet
Iraqi Kurds ‘new Russians’ for Turkish tourism spots

Antalya, one of the top tourism destinations on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, is attracting more and more Iraqi Kurdish visitors, say sector professionals. REUTERS photo

The number of Iraqi Kurds coming to Antalya on holiday increased 41 percent in the first six months of the year, as air carriers such as Turkish Airlines and Atlasjet directed their planes from Arbil to the southern province.

Hoteliers in Antalya have dubbed the Iraqi Kurds the “new Russians.”

“Antalya has earned a new tourist mass. Northern Iraqis flock to the Mediterranean for holiday. Air carriers have seen the potential in Arbil and Iraqis are transported to Antalya with Istanbul connected flights,” said Başaran Ulusoy, the president of the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TÜRSAB).
The total number of tourists coming to Antalya exceeded 5 million in the first seven months of 2012.
“Nearly 350,000 Iraqi tourists came to Turkey in 2011, but the figure exceeded 190,000 in the first six months of the year and kept increasing in July and August. The figure is estimated to double by the end of the year. The number of Iraqi tourists has been steadily rising since 2009, when it was 250,000. We expect a record figure this year,” Ulusoy said.

Increasing trade volume

More tourists are also traveling to Iraq as well, according to Ulusoy. “Some 1.5 million tourists visited Iraq in 2010, World Tourism Organization data shows. The share of Turkish tourists is high in this figure and Arbil-bound Turkish tourists are particularly on the rise. Businessmen also play a role in tourism [to Arbil]. We can see the effect of expanding bilateral trade volume between the two countries in tourism [numbers],” he said.

The bilateral trade volume between the two countries, which was at $3.2 billion in 2005, hit $8.3 billion last year.

Officials from national flag carrier Turkish Airlines said the number of people who prefer to holiday in Turkey is rising fast.

“Too many tourists have started to come to Turkey, particularly as Antalya-bound flights commenced. There are almost no free seats for the eid ul fitr [Şeker Bayramı] and ticket prices have increased. Antalya is one of the holiday resorts that Iraqi tourists favor very much. Antalya is preferred most in connected flights,” a Turkish Airlines source said.

Atlasjet Chairman Murat Ersoy said they have witnessed a nearly 90 percent occupancy rate in flights to Arbil.

“We may say sweltering weather in Ramadan has pushed Iraqis to Turkey where they take a vacation in various spots in Turkey. [Northern Iraq] has become an important market for us. We will try to lure more tourists,” Ersoy said.