Is food the future of tourism in Antalya?
Undoubtedly the leading region in Turkish tourism today is the Mediterranean province of Antalya. In the past, almost half a century ago, when tourism was taking off in baby steps, it was more a historic cultural tour of the whole country.
Usually, a kick-off start would be from Istanbul, a night or two stay in the newly opened Hilton Hotel, a mecca of American-style modern life, a quick visit to the Haghia Sophia, the Topkapı Palace, and the Blue Mosque, maybe a boat ride on the Bosphorus, then hastily going to explore Cappadocia.
In the old times, one would not fly to the land of Fairy Chimneys, but do the whole way on a tour bus, and the Ankara Anatolian Civilizations Museum would be an interesting peek into the history of Anatolia, giving a meaning to the uninteresting stop-over in the capital Ankara.
After the breathtaking tour of the extraterrestrial landscape of Cappadocia, the tour would lead to Pamukkale Hierapolis, otherwise known as the Cotton Castle, another outstanding site of natural and archaeological wander. The wrap up would be the site of Ephesus, one would never leave the country without paying pilgrimage to the Church of St. Mary. The history-focused grand cultural tour was complete, and now if there is time left, the tired tourist could take a dip in the blue waters of the Aegean before landing on the cruise ship, or skip that part thoroughly. Then, Turkey was a destination of archaeology and history, the hotels were rather shabby and food standard tourist fare, if edible.
Then came the era of the holy trio: Sun, sea and sand. Suddenly, there was a shift in destinations. Initially, sea vacation resorts were few. The legendary Club Med venues were only a handful, and open to the privileged-few of members.
Locals were destined for summer camps of various institutions, or tried to invest on low-cost summer houses, clustered in building sites near a beach, usually along the coast of the Aegean.
Big hotels, and holiday resorts came into play soon after. With the help of government support, the coast of Antalya was open to tourism. At first it was more modest, then it was transformed into something huge. The magnet to attract mass tourism was the introduction of an all-inclusive system, which turned out to be a double-edged sword. It was instrumental in attracting masses, but it was a burden on costs for the hotel management, and waste was unimaginable. Then the local tourists discovered this phenomenon of all-inclusive paradise. Now a summer vacation meant heaping plates with all food you could forage from the endless buffets, and of course drinking cheap booze to excess. Needless to say, food was mediocre, if edible.
Now, there is a rather recent rising trend of gastronomy tourism. Turkey is a country with a rich culture of food, with a diverse cornucopia of tastes, bearing deep roots in history in a country that has been a cradle to a myriad of civilizations.
But unfortunately, food has never been in its focus. In every single term, tourism and/or culture ministers would spend a few words on the importance of gastronomy and their visions of promoting Turkish cuisine, but no serious attempt has been done.
I deliberately mention Tourism and/or Culture Ministry here, because the two ministries were once apart, then united, and then apart again, and now re-united.
I know both sides, and especially the Culture Ministry, where I worked in collaboration with as a restoration architect, and I know from my colleagues that there is an end endless tension between the two entities.
The increasingly hideous architecture of increasingly ridiculous theme-hotels were extravagant monsters of eyesore, but they appealed to new portfolio of clients from new target countries such as Russia and former Russian countries. Eventually new hubs of client-zones were formed, the British would prefer Fethiye, Kaş and Kalkan, Russians would head for Belek and Lara, and Germans took their pension retirements in Alanya.
To maintain quality was not easy, and of course food was not of quality, but of quantity.
Antalya, one of the castles of sea-focused tourism in Turkey, is now tackling with the questions of the future of tourism in their region, and now food is in the table for discussions.
The second edition of F-Summit (Second International Tourism Gastronomy and Hospitality Summit), took place in Antalya, under the leadership of Sözen Organization, hosted by Nirvana Cosmopolitan Hotel.
It was supported by many important non-governmental organizations as well as institutions such as the Culture and Tourism Ministry and the Antalya Metropolitan Municipality.
Flooded with visitors, also followed online by thousands, a total of 165 industry professionals took part as speakers in 41 separate panels. The summit also included a fair area where leading companies displayed their newest products.
The panelists comprised of a wide range of hotel and restaurant professionals, domestic and foreign investors, F&B managers, gastronomy and tourism professionals, and local and international chefs and food writers and columnists. With a significant number of attendees from the Antalya region, the summit sought ways to make Antalya an important gastronomy destination in the world. Among many topics covered included the concept of modern Turkish food culture, the transformation of Anatolian cuisine, future scenarios in the luxury hospitality sector, the future of the ready-made food sector in Turkey, innovative buffet concepts in hotel gastronomy in Antalya, future adaptations of NGOs, what will change in hotel cultures in the future, Generation Z’s vision of holiday and hotels, expectations, future trends of gastronomy and the impact of international gastronomy competitions. Finally, all the tourism sector’s focus was food.
Food is a means of communication between the hosting country and the visitor. Though its food, one can understand and savor a country in a true sense.
Thanks to F-Summit, now food is on the table, and the future of food as a leading component of tourism is discussed by all possible stakeholders.
The title of summit, originally taking its name from Gökmen Sözen’s monthly magazine FoodinLife, this time stands for both Food & Future, or Future of Food in the hospitality sector.