In 2012, the luxury segments, MICE, and regional tourism are taking the stage, expanding Turkey's tourism beyond its main attractions.

As the country becomes an increasingly popular destination, luxury brands seek to service high-end leisure and corporate business travelers and to offer unique experiences that complement Turkey's traditional offering. Meanwhile, public players are putting new cities on the map as alternatives to Istanbul and Ankara, aiming to attract tourists to the roads less traveled, where natural beauty has yet to be disturbed.

Between January and September 2011, 25.6 million visitors arrived in Turkey from abroad. According to the Turkish Tourism Investors Association (TYD), 1.5 million of these visitors were from the Middle East. “Regardless of the Arab Spring, we project that we will maintain the same percentage for these countries," Turgut Gür, Chairman of the TYD, told TBY. “We expect 31 million tourists to arrive in Turkey in 2011 and 33 million by the end of 2012."

Focused mainly on infrastructure and development, the government has incorporated tourism into its 2023 plan. To meet the goal of attracting 50 million arrivals and making $50 billion in revenues by that year, the private sector is expected to invest approximately $24 billion over the next decade.

Investments have mainly been focused on hotels, marinas, golf courses, airports and aircraft, MICE tourism facilities, and entertainment centers. The sector would also benefit from investments of up to $20 billion in the transportation sector, ensuring that railways, roads, and seaports are well connected to the main tourist attractions throughout the country.

In particular, the TYD has encouraged the development of sustainable tourism as well as the conservation of the country's natural resources and cultural assets. Through diligent work from both private and public actors, the sector is expected to succeed above and beyond its goals.


Through the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the TYD's drive to extend tourism throughout the country, a variety of regional areas are opening up to both domestic tourists and visitors with particular interests.

According to the Minister of Culture and Tourism, Ertuğrul Günay, the “Ministry runs campaigns to enliven Turkish tourism, maintain consistency in domestic demand, ensure the participation of our people, and cooperate with the relevant organizations and local authorities." To do this, the local provincial governments around Turkey have taken steps to highlight their touristic offerings and implement new campaigns. The Ministry has also launched an important campaign called Early Reservation, “which encourages people to take a favorable and well-deserved vacation." These approaches have revitalized the domestic tourism industry. Cities targeted by the Ministry also include Adıyaman, Amasya, Bursa, Edirne, Mardin, Şanlıurfa, Nevşehir, Gaziantep, Trabzon, Kars, Kütahya, and Konya, with the goal of increasing the number of arrivals.

Located in the mountainous central region of the country, Kayseri is aiming to attract both domestic and international winter sports tourists with the development of a ski resort area close to other popular destinations in the area. Mount Erciyes is a prime location for winter sports, offering 170 kilometers of ski slopes. The Erciyes Winter Tourism Center will require an investment of $338 million and will eventually cover a 26-million-sqm area. On June 13, 2012, the tender for 21 accommodation facilities took place, offering a wide range of investment opportunities to local businesses and foreign corporations. “In a few years, this will be one of the world's top winter sports destinations. There are important opportunities for investors in both the entertainment and accommodation sectors," Başkan Özhaseki, Mayor of Kayseri, told TBY. To date, $100 million has been invested in the project through a variety of public-private partnerships (PPPs), contributing heavily to job creation and value-added in the tourism sector and the national economy.

To accommodate the growing number of corporate travelers visiting sites beyond the capital and largest cities, the FYD highlighted the need to expand facilities in Izmir, Antalya, Kuşadası, Pamukkale, and Cappadocia. In these cities, business travelers can enjoy expansive sea views, natural landforms, and beaches in the spare time between conferences and meetings without struggling through the crowded streets of Istanbul or battling Ankara's wintry embrace. “Direct flights to those destinations should also be placed accordingly," Gür told TBY in an interview.


Business travelers coming to Turkey en masse are participating in the relatively new phenomenon of MICE tourism. Both the government and private enterprises are focused on developing a wide spectrum of offerings for MICE tourists, including conference halls, exhibition centers, and meeting rooms. According to the latest data from the International Congress and Conventions Association (ICCA), published in 2010, Turkey ranks 20th in the world in terms of meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions. By city, Istanbul ranked 17th. On an annual basis, the number of MICE tourists entering the country is growing by 5%. According to the Ministry of Tourism, the average corporate tourist spends three times more than the average leisure traveler.

Istanbul has been a popular favorite for attracting congresses and conferences, playing host to annual meetings for the IMF, the World Bank, and NATO. However, as MICE tourism becomes a larger revenue generator, traditional touristic spots such as Antalya are receiving more of the limelight. “The ICCA decided to hold its 2014 congress in Antalya, and 3,500 professionals are expected to attend," Minister Günay told TBY.

Although heavily impacting the tourism sector, the benefits of MICE are not limited to visitors and accommodations providers. Companies in the construction sector also see increased activity in the number of business hotels and upscale shopping centers demanded. “MICE tourism has enormous potential…there is a huge demand for hotels directed toward the business visitor," Erol Özmandıracı, Chairman of Bay İnşaat, told TBY. “In very office-oriented areas we are targeting this type of guest."


Beyond hotel rooms and tourist attractions, the private sector is investing in new ways to entertain and accommodate visitors, whether through unique services or once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

With the arrival of JW Marriott, Sheraton, and Crowne Plaza, both Istanbul and Ankara have seen increased numbers of luxury tourism clientele. International chains are working together with local brands to develop a wider top-class offering, especially geared toward business travelers. Enjoying excellent occupancy rates since opening in summer 2011, the JW Marriott in Ankara used the low season to tailor and customize the hotel to meet the needs of corporate clients. Crediting the success of the hotel to local collaboration, Khaled Al Jamal, General Manager of the JW Marriott Ankara, explained to TBY, “We have the right investor and the right partner, the Özdoğan Group. They took a courageous move to invest in and believe in the future of Ankara."

Outside the capital, VIP Tourism has launched an initiative to take vacations to new heights by 2014, working with Canadian and Spanish companies to offer a hot-air-balloon ride that will soar 36 kilometers high for a duration of two hours. A second project will carry passengers 60 kilometers up over a period of four minutes before floating up to the point of 100 kilometers. Passengers will experience weightlessness for 10 minutes on the descent. Although the journey will leave from Turkey, the company is promoting the ride internationally. Tickets are currently on sale at €110,000 for a three-day package—just under a dozen have already been booked. “I believe that this is the future," Ceylan Pirinçcioğlu, CEO of VIP Tourism, suggested in an interview with TBY. “It would also help the environment in reducing CO2 emissions by transporting goods and passengers via space."