‘Turkey still a tourist attraction despite regional turmoil’
Barçın Yinanç ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
Istanbul has ranked first for three consecutive years since 2011 for hosting congresses with 500 and more participants, says Başaran Ulusoy, on Ankara's efforts to diversify tourism products. HÜRRİYET photo, Murat ŞAKAForeign tourists are continuing to choose Turkey as a holiday destination despite military conflicts that are continuing in the country’s bordering regions.
“We expect to have 42 million tourists coming by the end of the year and tourism revenues reach $35 billion,” Başaran Ulusoy, the president of Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TÜRSAB) told the Hürriyet Daily News, adding that this would mark a 6 percent boost in the number of tourists compared to last year.
One of the reasons why Turkey has been less affected by the adverse effects of the turmoil in the region is the changing perception about the country, Ulusoy said. “Turkey is not the same country as it was during the first Gulf crisis [in 1991]. People know that Turkey is a secure country,” he added.
How has the Turkish tourism sector fared in 2014?
We live in a country whose fate is dictated by geography. We have turmoil in at least nine countries [in the vicinity] from Ukraine to Egypt and from Iraq to Libya; Europe is in recession. Yet despite all of this, we have grown around 6 percent. According to data from the Culture and Tourism Ministry, the number of tourists coming to Turkey in the month of July reached 5,214,519 with an increase of 13.52 percent compared to last year. In the January-July period the number of tourists increased by 6.84 percent, reaching 20,452,740.
In the first seven months [of 2014] we saw serious increases in tourists coming from Iraq, Iran, Greece, Russia, Bulgaria and the United Kingdom. If we add to this the travels of Turks living abroad, we expect to have 42 million tourists coming by the end of the year and tourism revenues to reach $35 billion. In 2000 we had only 10 million tourists.
Turkey has taken important steps to become a landmark and in fact, we have combined all the regional landmarks from the Aegean to the Black Sea and from the Mediterranean to the southeast, creating a national brand name and promoting it at international forums.
To what degree has the surrounding turmoil affected tourism in Turkey?
Obviously it has had a psychological affect; we have tried to minimize the effects, but the world knows that Turkey is not the Turkey of the first Gulf crisis [in 1991]. Turkey is a safe country. Obviously it’s impossible not to be affected, so we are trying to diversify our tourism products.
Turkish tourism is known for the concept of sea, sand and sun. Have the efforts to diversify succeeded?
The majority of foreign tourists’ preference for Turkey continues to be sea-sand-sun. Yet the perception is changing. We have made important advances in culture, health and congress tourism.
According to the data of International Congress and Conventions Association (ICCA), in 2013, Turkey ranked 18th with 221 congress while Istanbul ranked eighth with 146 congresses. Istanbul has ranked first for three consecutive years since 2011 for hosting congresses with 500 and more participants.
In the health sector, we used to send our patients abroad; now foreign patients who came to receive health services continue to come for a healthy life.
We have a country with 17 yacht harbors, and we have been encouraging the visits of cruise lines.
In the past, Antalya used to get nearly 40 percent [of the tourists]; now Istanbul gets 32 percent and Antalya 31 percent. Istanbul has sun and sea but it has also health, culture, shopping and entertainment. I believe we have succeeded in diversifying our tourism products.
Turks have also become more involved in tourism compared to past years. Turkey has explained to its people that a holiday is a necessity, not a luxury. The concept of early reservations are becoming more widespread. In 2013, 13 million Turks traveled; of those, 8 million went abroad. Our target is to have 35 million Turks making touristic travels by 2023.
From a country that expects tourists to come, we have turned into a country that sends tourists abroad. In the past, I could not get an appointment abroad; now those who did not even give an appointment have lined up to host us.
So foreign countries have started chasing Turkish tourists?
In year the 2000 I could not get an appointment from Greece. Today Greece’s best customer is Turkey.
We tell those who ask for visas from us: “Shame on you. A day will come when we will ask for a visa from you.” Turkey is hosting 1.6 million refugees.
We no longer go abroad to seek jobs; those seeking jobs are coming to Turkey.
Currently we have been invited by 17 countries. Everybody wants Turkish tourists; this is what I hear everywhere I go: Bring us more Turkish tourists, Turkish Airlines (THY) should increase its flight numbers in order to carry more tourists.
How did the growth strategy of THY affect Turkish tourism?
It affected it tremendously. A significant portion of tourists who visit our country come by air travel. According to the statistics of 2013, 71.25 percent of tourists who visited Turkey came by air. We are talking about an airline company which has 264 planes with the biggest number of destinations. Turkey now has 51 airports.
Turkey is also a tourist attraction due to its historic and archaeological richness, yet there are complaints that Turkey’s development is taking place at the expense of its historical and natural richness.
It is unfortunately very difficult to conserve authentic values. We should not touch the old. Sinan [the famous Ottoman architect] could have built a 50-story building in the old town, but he did not. Those who constructed the Hagia Sofia could have built high buildings, but did they? No.
Construct a new city but don’t touch the old one. We should not harm the green and wildlife. Turkey will be one of the countries that will be affected by global warming. We need to be especially careful with the use of water.
Tourism revenues are highly important for the country’s budget. Do you have a healthy dialogue with the government about the possible adverse effects of development in the tourism sector?
We tell them our views. But we are one of the few institutions that work in harmony with the Culture Ministry. Through our cooperation, we have secured a 50 percent increase in the number of local tourists who visit museums. We now have a big group that travels and spends money.
What is the profile of the Turkish tourists? What are their primary destinations and priorities?
According to 2014 data, the first five countries that were chosen by Turks were Georgia, Germany, Greece, Bulgaria and Azerbaijan. As for Turks traveling via travel agencies, Italy, Spain, the Benelux countries, Central Europe, Russia and France are the most popular ones.
Does Turkey have trouble in attracting tourists from high-income levels?
Not really; look at Istanbul; you can’t find a place in five-star hotels.
How about tourists coming from the Middle East. Aren’t there any problems there?
No, they continue to come; the tourism sector has grown this year.
But aren’t Arab tourists affected by politics? Turkey’s image has been tarnished especially among Arab countries.
No, Turkey is still an attractive country.
WHO IS BAŞARAN ULUSOY?
Born in 1949 in Of, a district in the Black Sea province of Trabzon, Ulusoy graduated from the Istanbul Economic Sciences Academy.
From 1968 onward, Ulusoy has worked in the sectors of construction, engineering services, transportation, insurance and tourism.
In 1970 he became a member of the Fenerbahçe sport club, serving in several positions, including as deputy president to the board council between 1981 and 1983. He also served as a member of the board council of TÜRSAB at the same time before later being elected as president between 1991 and 1993.
He is a founding member of several associations, including as the 1907 Fenerbahçe Association, the Association of Environment Education of Turkey and the Tourism Transportation Association. Ulusoy has also been a member of the Foreign Economic Relations Council (DEİK) since 2006.