Saving Antalya

Saving Antalya

Antalya is Turkey’s top holiday resort town, known for its sunny beaches, golf courses and all-inclusive hotels. However, the city faces an uncertain future after Turkey downed a Russian plane last year and Russian President Vladimir Putin promised revenge. The number of Russian tourists visiting Antalya has decreased greatly; in February 2015, 8,307 Russian tourists visited Antalya, this year the number was only 55. Apparently Antalya needs to seek alternatives to survive.  

Menderes Türel, the mayor of Antalya from the Justice and Development Party (AKP), vowed to turn Antalya into a capital of sports last year. The stadium of the city’s football team, Antalyaspor, has been renewed, the first half of an Ironman race took place in Antalya last year and in May the 11th Antalya marathon, called Runatolia, will take place with some 11,000 participants to bring color to a city waiting hopelessly for tourists. 

As I was traveling from nearby Belek to the center of Antalya, where the marathon will take place, we passed a small deserted building with Kremlin Textil (Textile) Plaza written on it. I asked my driver Bülent, “Will the city go bankrupt without tourists from Russia?” After silencing his cell phone, which had such a nostalgic ringtone, a rap song that was popular in the 1990s titled “U Can’t Touch This,” he replied that small hotels had already gone bankrupt. He said he thought rich Russian tourists would keep coming to Antalya anyway, and that it will only be the middle and the working class Russians who will stay away. He said Putin will go down in a couple of years because of the receding gas price, and added, “At least we have the service sector; Russia does not have that.”

Not everyone is as optimistic as Bülent. The waiters in my hotel were all very interested in Runatolia. One of them complained he terribly wanted to run in it but he could not talk his wife into running. He decided to participate in Runatolia next year, even if on his own. Another waiter named Erhan asked how much I ran. When I answered a half marathon, 21.1 kilometers, he was surprised. He congratulated me “as a woman” then asked how long men ran. I told him they run the same and he was again surprised. His fascination peaked, when I told him the full marathon distance was 42.2 kilometers. He said if a person decided to run a marathon in his home town of Serik, another town in Antalya, people would react by saying, “What are you, a car?” 

I asked how they were greeting the new tourism season and he was pessimistic. “As one of the biggest facilities in Antalya we will not be affected very much… But this year will be very hard for smaller hotels,” he said.  Erhan said tourists were hesitant to come to Antalya not only because of the crisis with Russia, but also because of the terror attacks and the war in Syria.

Indeed this year there are no Russian runners in Runatolia; last year and the year before I saw many of them competing in half and full distances. The runners will mostly be Turks this time.

It is still quiet in Antalya, but it is only the beginning of the tourism season. In April the Antalya Expo 2016 will take place, and the city is already getting prepared for it. Hotels in the city center and nearby are waiting for Expo guests.

And the most grotesque building after Mardan Palace, Mega Park Rixos, a Disneyland-like hotel with an entrance just like the Brandenburg Gate, is nearly finished. One cannot help but wonder: Who is going to fill this giant complex?