Turkey needs high value added tourism
We are in the middle of the holidays. But the currency crisis is here haunting us every day. What to do? Tourism is one of the sectors that earn us foreign currency. Would increasing the number of tourists coming to Turkey solve the problem? Unfortunately not.
According to numbers, there is a serious number of tourists coming to Turkey. In 2015, Turkey saw the peak with 42 million tourists. Due to the downing of the Russian plane that same year, coupled with the diplomatic crisis with several European Union countries, the country faced a loss of 10 million in 2016. Following the normalization of relations with Russia, numbers started to rise, reaching 39 million in 2017. A new record is expected for this year.
What matters is how much tourists spend
But these numbers alone are not enough to understand the sector. What matters is not the number of incoming tourists but how much money they spend. In 2013, we hosted 39 million tourists and earned $32 billion, whereas we hosted a similar number of tourists in 2017 but earned $6 billion less. 2017 was a troublesome year, as individual spending per tourist was the lowest. The main reason behind it is the weakening of the Turkish Lira. As the depreciating of the lira is even bigger this year, it is not difficult to guess the individual spending per tourist this year. In short, tourists are coming but they are spending less.
Istanbul for instance ranks high on the list of global cities to be visited. But when we look at the individual spending list, we are no longer there.
What we need is not to attract more tourists but to make the transition to high added value tourism. Our fundamental problem is we are not providing cultural, artistic and trade services for tourists to spend their money.
In order to understand what is missing in Turkey, it is useful to look at other cities. For instance, let’s look at New York, which does not have a comparable amount of historical attractions. However, it competes with Istanbul in terms of the number of tourists. If you wish, you can eat a pizza for $1 and visit museums free of charge. But there are shops inside these museums where you might end up emptying your wallet before you see the exit.
The same is valid for cites that have a comparable historical legacy with Istanbul. If you are curious about how a city markets its history, look at London.
It sells theater performances in dungeons, music in tunnels, walking tours in main squares. The income from a single artistic event in London is bigger than the total income we get from all of our museums.
The age of developing with natural resources has ended. There is no longer a race for natural resources but there is a race among who uses its resources best. Turkey has unique natural and historical beauties. But we need branding, we need science and design.
I have been visiting holiday resorts in Turkey for the past month. I want to share two observations that frustrate me.
We have a tremendous national litter problem. In addition, we have a plastic bottle problem. We have no right to pollute this country. Locals should take their litter with them and dispose of it no matter where they go.
The second one is a problem foreign tourists suffer from. There are dozens of people working in archeological sites but it is nearly impossible to find one archeologist among them. Tourists want to know, they want to learn the history and geography. We need officials who speak English to guide the tourists.
We have hundreds of thousands of English-speaking university graduates; can’t they be employed in these places?