Tourism potential of Northern Cyprus as a Mediterranean hub
The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) was the destination on the fifth leg of the urban gatherings of daily Hürriyet and Turkish Travel Agencies Union (TÜRSAB), which have organized events regularly since last May.
This was the first time we travelled abroad, outside Turkey’s borders. The aim of these gatherings is to visit a city, a region, a country and see with our own eyes, explore, understand and write about them so that we draw attention to the potential there.
I first visited the island in 1981 to cover the presidential elections. The incident that affected me the most during the visit was how Turkish Cypriots would severely criticize each other in rallies during the day, but then could sit on the same table in the evening, talking and joking in a friendly atmosphere. Political differences did not affect civilized relations. This was a situation we, especially in Turkey, were not used to during those years.
In the decades that came after that, I closely monitored the Cyprus issue as a journalist and visited the island several times. During that time, Turkish Cyprus had to live under isolation, blockade and a pressure mechanism, having to face several injustices.
In the referendum held in 2004, Turkish Cypriots approved the U.N.’s Annan Plan while Greek Cypriots rejected it, unfortunately with no pledges on the lifting or the easing of the embargo; they were all futile. The world turned a blind eye to this injustice. Meanwhile, the EU accepted the Greek Cypriot administration as a full member of the bloc before the Cyprus issue was solved. This has become a huge obstacle for any solution to prevail. Leading European politicians accept today that a historic mistake has been made.
Writing self-criticisms in memoirs today does not change the fact that a huge injustice is ongoing on the island. When tourism figures are reviewed, traffic to Northern Cyprus is still very limited, evidencing this injustice.
In 2007, foreign tourists, from outside Turkey, visiting the island reached 156,000; in 2016, this figure went up to 358,000. This has doubled in 10 years. The number of visitors coming from Turkey was 634,000 in 2007; similarly, this figure went up to 1,128,000 in 2016, almost doubling. Gladly, there was no sharp fall in the number of incoming non-Turkish international tourists in 2016 when compared with 2015; there was only a 3.7 percent drop. We see that Northern Cyprus is not affected by the tourism crisis that Turkey is currently going through.
Tourism is Northern Cyprus’ most important potential. In the event that one day a just and sustainable solution recognizing Turkish Cypriots’ political equality is found, then there is no reason why Northern Cyprus cannot become the most significant attraction center of the East Mediterranean region. The fact that tourism is facilitating in the northern part of the island is new when compared to the southern part creates a very important advantage for Turkish Cyprus.
One satisfying development is that despite the embargo, the TRNC has become an international center in education with its universities. The fact that there are international students coming from more than 100 countries to attend universities in Northern Cyprus is an important indication that, despite the entire international isolation the TRNC has been in, it has been de facto recognized.
However, regardless of a reached solution, the TRNC should explain itself better to the world and to Turkey. It is truly a pity that the enormous potential here is not properly put into use.
While explaining Northern Cyprus, its history, tourism and natural richness should be highlighted as well as its other strong aspects. The first important impression that I had when I first stepped foot on the island in 1981 is still valid today. The impression was seeing how strong democracy and the rule of law were in Turkish Cyprus.
The culture of democracy has been internalized very deeply in the Turkish Cypriot community. Basic features of democracy such as tolerance, patience and compromise are very strong among the Turkish Cypriot community. While TRNC is introduced and promoted to the world, the strength of its democracy should be emphasized as one of its most important features.