TBY talks to Ertuğrul Günay, Minister of Culture and Tourism, on the growth and diversification of travel in Turkey.

Ertuğrul Günay
Previously a high ranking member of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Social Democratic People’s Party (SHP), he joined the AK Party in 2007 and was elected Istanbul Deputy in the same year. He has served as Minister of Culture and Tourism since 2007. He has pioneered the “Humanity Initiative for Bosnia”, the “Eastern Conference”, and the “New Politics Initiative”, and is author of the books Bosnian Writings and Counter Politics.

How would you assess the successes of the 2023 Tourism Strategy thus far?

Our 2023 strategy is one that focuses on cooperation between the public and private sectors in the tourism industry, while also seeking to ensure that the strategic planning goals that have been laid out are successfully applied. It contains policies on creating regional destinations, diversifying tourism and strengthening the transportation infrastructure.

The aim of the Turkey Tourism Strategy and Action Plan is to provide the sector with a directional road map concerning production, management, and application procedures. Such an approach enables this work to proceed and function in a regional, directional, and dynamic framework. This document brings to light the problems that need to be addressed in our national tourism sector, the institutions that will be responsible for finding solutions to those problems, along with the role each of them will play.

Both plans aim to ensure that Turkey becomes a sustainable brand as a world tourism destination and a leading country in the world tourism industry, as a result of a visionary and consistent approach to tourism policy.

In order to attain these goals, we aim to make use of all of our country's natural, cultural, historic, and geographic resources while maintaining a balance between conservation and utilization. We also aim to expand alternative tourism, starting with health and thermal, cultural, winter, golf, eco, mountain plateau, congress, and fair tourism so that Turkey becomes a year-round destination, thereby increasing tourism revenues significantly.

Especially in the fields of culture and faith tourism, we have the potential not only to enhance our national tourism industry, but also to contribute to world peace. The kinds of excavations and discoveries currently going on in Denizli, İznik, and Manisa could make us a world leader in faith tourism. It's not just the Muslim and Christian faith that is represented in Turkey, but all faiths.

I can say that Turkey is very close to achieving its 2023 goals. Our aim is to become one of the world's top five tourism destinations with 50 million visitors annually by 2023. In 2002, we were 17th in terms of number of visitors, and in just eight years we've jumped 10 places to seventh. During the economic crisis, Greece, Spain, and France contracted by 3-4%, whereas we grew by 3-4%. In 2011 we're aiming at 30 million tourists and revenues of $25 billion.

What are Turkey's comparative advantages as a leading international travel destination?

Turkey is currently ranked seventh in the world in terms of number of visitors annually. This is a great success, but it also shows that Turkey's beauties and riches haven't as yet been fully discovered or appreciated. When I look at the riches and potential of our country, I feel that we deserve to be at least in the top three, if not number one. We have a magnificent heritage that cannot be found anywhere else in the world, all of which awaits visitors. We have different activities, destinations, boutique hotels, five- and seven-star hotels, thermal spas, beaches, historic treasures, museums, and art events that will appeal to anyone and everyone. Furthermore, you have access to all of these at a high level of quality and at affordable prices. Considering our traditional warmth and hospitality, this is a country where you can make lifelong friendships. This year's slogan is: “Turkey: a never-ending journey". Turkey is truly an unforgettable country that will leave you wanting more.

What are your main targets and initiatives for 2011-2012?

One of our main targets at the Ministry is to spread tourism over the entire country and over the entire calendar. So as to achieve these targets, we not only aim to further develop tourism dynamos like Istanbul, Antalya, Muğla, and Izmir, but also to open, develop, and promote other regions in various target markets. We want to bring thermal and cultural tourism to the fore so as to attract the high-income bracket. Our greatest advantage in cultural tourism is our extraordinarily rich historical heritage spanning all historic eras, a heritage full of treasures that are either on or will be on UNESCO's World Heritage List. Recently, the Selimiye Mosque in Edirne has also been included on that list, and we are working to add other cultural sites to the list while also promoting these sites worldwide.

Do you feel Istanbul and Turkey have enough rooms to supply increasing demand?

Here in the Ministry, we are very well aware of Turkey's potential. When setting a goal for ourselves, we naturally take the available infrastructure into consideration and whether it can support such projects. We now have countless accommodation facilities that offer international standards of comfort and quality. Most of them operate at a high occupancy rate. Keeping in mind the rising demand, we are working to implement projects that will cater to these needs.

What is your strategy for the growth and development of the country's hospitality infrastructure?

Tourism is a sector that is tied in with many other sectors, and this offers us endless opportunities for innovative solutions. We are a country that has proven itself with the quality service it offers. Now we're working to ensure that this service quality is also environmentally and historically sensitive and aware. Every country has come to understand the importance of good service. I believe that we have truly established ourselves on the world scene with our blue-flag beaches and green-flag hotels, our hospitable and warm service, our historical riches, and our natural beauties.

What is Turkey's potential to become a major medical tourism destination?

One of the areas of tourism that we're seeking to develop and promote in particular is health tourism. Thermal tourism and health tourism are included together. We're currently number one in Europe in terms of thermal tourism. Our thermal hotels, spas, and other facilities are very popular and draw many visitors. Our aim is to develop all of these into five-star facilities. Once the quality of our facilities and the quality of our waters have synched, I believe that we can become the world's top country in this field

Please tell us about any major renovation, reconstruction, or recovery projects currently being spearheaded by your Ministry?

Work continues at 151 sites all over Turkey to offer the world new treasures from our cultural heritage. Restoration work also continues on existing historic structures. Extensive work has just been completed in the Hagia Sophia, having brought to light the magnificent “seraphim" mosaic. For us, every historical artifact is of utmost importance, and we therefore support all recovery, excavation, and restoration work concerning any and all sites, structures, and pieces. Very important work continues in Antalya, Denizli, Gaziantep, Diyarbakır, Muğla, and other areas. As the number of artifacts we recover increases, so does our need for museums to house them in, and we at the Ministry do whatever we can to meet these needs. In addition to places on the UNESCO list such as Istanbul's historical sites, Hattuşa, Pergamum, Ephesus, and Bitlis Ahlat, we are also continuing restoration work on places like Sagalassos, Myra, and Ani. Recently Mimar Sinan's famed Selimiye Mosque in Edirne was added to the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List in Paris on June 27, 2011. We hope that other historical sites such as Alanya and Ephesus will also be added to the list in the next few years.