Why don’t Turks smile?
Abdullah Al MohaimeedI have visited the Republic of Turkey several times. The first time was in 1993 and the last was in early August this year. Between the two visits, many things changed, and Turkey moved during this period from one case to another, specifically the economic and development situation. Some 22 years ago on my first visit, the only characteristics of the historic capital Istanbul were the monuments, museums and old markets, but now Istanbul has become a modern masterpiece with its modern landmarks competing with its ancient sites.
The sites available to tourists to visit and for entertainment are a mix of huge malls, modern monuments and historical sites, not to mention the public transport network and road network which not only covers Istanbul alone but the entire country, which contains many tourist attractions. There are Antalya, Trabzon, Uzungol, Sakarya and many other amazing tourist sites. According to official statistics, the number of tourists visiting Turkey annually exceeds 30 million, and according to an investment support and promotion agency website, these numbers could reach 60 million by the year 2023 and the revenues from the tourism sector will rise to $80 billion annually.
In this article my focus is not going to be on the political side of the Turkish Republic or the impact and its presence in the regional and international scene, but on tourism. Turkey is a tourist country par excellence and the allocation of a separate Culture and Tourism Ministry suggests the importance attached by the Turkish government to the tourism sector. In this context, perhaps the bodies involved in the tourism industry make varied and persistent efforts to revitalize and strengthen the tourism sector, but there remains a cultural problem: The Turkish people dealing with the tourists and the absence of smiles on their faces. With the exception of smiles from the reception staff who greeted me at the hotel where I stayed, and which appear to be part of the functions of the position, I have missed the smile from the people in metro, shops, markets and public places. Even the taxi drivers, who are supposed to be one of the groups of people to most celebrate the increasing numbers of tourists, refrain from granting passengers a smile and a friendly greeting. So, why don’t Turks smile? What is the reason for the absence of smiles and being friendly to tourists? Vuslat Aslan, the public relations manager at my hotel, a young, educated and energetic Turkish woman, answered my question with much simplicity and said that the answer is easy. The absence of smiles on Turks’ faces is due to the difficulties of life and high prices. In my opinion, the problem is also related to the low level of awareness of the importance of tourism and its economic paybacks in all parts of society, and also the role of tourism in the introduction of the Turkish civilization.
The treatment of the subject is supposed to start from the Tourism Ministry. The ministry, which across its cultural annexes abroad makes extensive efforts to promote Turkish tourism, should direct part of its efforts to the Turkish inside, in the sense that it should draw part of its messages to the Turkish people, and work on the organization of propaganda and awareness campaigns focusing on the importance of dealing with tourists and the implications on the nation, economically and culturally. The tourist who visits Turkey and comes out with a good experience of their dealings of Turkish people is a marketing representative who promotes Turkish tourism. And instead of the Tourism Ministry working on organizing campaigns outside Turkey to attract tourists, it should direct part of its mission to the inside; meaning that the entirety of the Turkish people would be the best way to promote the Turkish tourism product.
O Turkish people, please do not refrain from granting your visitors a friendly smile.
Abdullah Al Mohaimeed is a Saudi writer.