Northern Cyprus to target tourists in Turkey and Europe with ‘year round good weather’
Barçın Yinanç - firstname.lastname@example.orgGive us an overview of the tourism sector in Northern Cyprus.
When we look at Northern Cyprus’ tourism from the past until the present day, we tend to think about “sun, sea and sand.” But we have to start talking about other factors in the tourism sector like history, nature, sport activities, and harvest tourism.
In fact we have already started focusing on these activities. We will have a tree planting activity for tourists, especially foreign tourists. They will receive a certificate and an occasional email reminding them that they have a planted tree on the island. We are also going to make sure we coordinate different activities of local municipalities so they do not take place on the same day.
We are also seriously focusing on health tourism and we have received serious interest from investors on this issue. We have 100,000 students from all over the world and highly developed medical universities. In addition to the education these universities provide, they have also entered the health sector.
Northern Cyprus recently became the 54th member of the World Health Tourism Congress. We believe this is very important. The island’s weather is excellent for the elderly, so we have started working on plans to attract older tourists, especially from countries with long winter seasons. Our purpose is to make them stay much longer than ordinary tourists.
What are the numbers?
We have one million tourists coming to the island annually. We have managed to increase this number this year by attracting more tourists in the winter season. Now, 70 percent of the capacity of hotels is already filled until June. We also try to make sure our guests do not stay in their hotels and instead visit historic and natural beauties of the island.
My understanding is that your priority target market is going to be Turkey. Apparently Turks do not know the island as much as we would have thought.
We have realized that over 90 percent of Turks have never been to the island. We made detailed research and realized that there are some in Turkey who don’t even know where the island is, what its currency is, or what language is being spoken. So we started to work on ways to bridge that gap. We chose the biggest cities in Turkey and we will start promotion campaigns in those cities. These campaigns won’t be limited to the tourism sector; they will include representatives from the tourism sector like travel agencies, as well as representatives from universities, the construction sector, artists, etc.
It is interesting that Turks don’t know much about the island considering the fact that it is generally believed that Cyprus is an emotional and sensitive issue in Turkey?
I was surprised myself, which is why I went to Turkey to talk about it to the tourism minister. He promised to support us and that’s how we came up with the promotion campaign.
What makes Northern Cyprus attractive for foreign tourists? Ultimately this is still a divided island that is not at peace.
First of all, we cannot ignore the natural beauty of the island with its sun, sea and sand. It is a place where you can swim nearly all year round.
But what distinguishes Northern Cyprus from the rest of the Mediterranean?
It is still an extremely secure island. In fact, studies show that Northern Cyprus is even more secure than Southern Cyprus. There are zero security risks in the northern part of the island.
The biggest obstacle in front of foreign tourists is transportation. How do you plan to overcome that obstacle considering the embargos imposed on the North?
We currently use the touchdown system, where the plane carrying tourists makes a short stopover in Turkey. We have plans to expand that system.
It seems this is only possible with planes coming from the U.K.
We are also working on other destinations. But it is true that due to obstructions from the Southern Cypriot administration we do encounter problems.
What about Turkey? Do you think the potential is fully used?
We are working on that as well. Last May flights from Diyarbakır started operating and last August flights from Ordu started. We are also working to start flights from other destinations like Konya. Many Turkish Cypriots came to the island originally from the Konya region, and we believe opening that new line will reconnect people. We are also working on a more serious promotion in the U.K. There are a lot of Turkish Cypriots living in the U.K. but there is a disconnection between second and third generations and the island. We want to attract these young generations back to their roots, so we will organize some activities in the U.K. in May.
It seems that the sea lines between Cyprus and Turkey are not sufficient either.
We are also working on opening additional lines from Antalya and Alanya [on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast]. We are talking with certain companies and we are hoping to get these lines operating this summer.
Have you got plans for what to do if the current talks on the island are to end in lasting peace?
No we do not have such plans. We are focusing on how to develop and improve the existing situation. The most important thing for us is to explain and promote ourselves at home. We believe that will attract a high number of tourists [from Turkey]. But we will also concentrate on promotion in other counties. In addition to the U.K. we are targeting Germany, where a lot of Turks live. Azerbaijan, Iran and Russia are other countries in our plans.
Why Russia? Wouldn’t they rather prefer the South, where they have a cultural affinity?
When you ask Russians about vacations they mention Antalya, not even Turkey. So cultural affinity does not matter that much.
Some of Turkey’s tourism centers have suffered from dense construction. What are you plans to avoid such mistakes?
We have many areas that are untouched and under protection. Especially the regions around Lefke and Karpaz are untouched and protected.
But at the same time our bed capacity needs to increase. We already have a lot of hotels that can compete with the world, but they need to increase in numbers. In short, the untouched parts of the islands will be protected while the parts that are open to development will continue to develop.
Currently one of our biggest problems is unfinished investments. There are even some investments that were scheduled to start but did not start at all. If these investments do not start in due time, we will take them back and give them to those who can actually complete them.
Who is Fikri Ataoğlu?
Fikri Ataoğlu is the tourism and environment minister of Northern Cyprus. He was born in the village of Avtepe on the Karpas peninsula in the northern part of Cyprus. He finished high school in Famagusta, after which he went to United Kingdom for two years to work and to learn English. On his return to Cyprus he received captain training from Girne American University.
Ataoğlu then started his professional business life by entering the fuel stations business, also going on to start ro-ro transport for the first time in Northern Cyprus. He set up several companies in a number of sectors, and most recently he constructed a water treatment plant to provide drinking water to the Famagusta region.
He is a board member of the Famagusta Maritime Union and has been a member of the Democrat Party since 1992. He was named Northern Cyprus’ tourism minister in the cabinet formed last April.