A FRESH LOOK

Turkey 2013 | TOURISM | REVIEW: TOURISM

Turkey still has room for growth in several tourism segments, and further private and public sector initiatives could enhance its attractiveness to investors.

Giant infrastructure projects and extensive urban renewal and restoration plans are expected to further boost the rapidly growing tourism sector, which has almost trebled in size over the past decade. In 2013, Turkey is looking forward to host 50 million tourists—many of them from growth markets in the Gulf and Asia. However, Europe continues to be the main source of foreign visitors for Turkey, with Germany, Russia, and the UK occupying the top spots. More investments in winter tourism, cruises, retail and shopping offerings, and culture attractions are also expected to increase Turkey's $30 billion of tourism revenue per year to $50 billion by 2023.

In the first six months of 2013, the number of tourists reached 13.7 million people, marking a 7% increase compared to the previous year. At the start of the tourist season in May, the number of foreign visitors registered was 17.8% higher than that of the same month in 2012. With the recovery in Europe slowly picking up, the number of EU nationals crossing Turkey's borders comprised 51% of visitors between January and May 2013, a figure that had risen 13% year on year. Outside of the EU, Russia supplied 22% of the tourists entering Turkey, the Middle East claimed 6% of the international tourist total, and Central Asia represented 4%.

One of Turkey's long-term goals in the tourism sector is to maintain an average of 48.5 million tourists on an annual basis between 2014 and 2018, which would mean a 5% increase in comparison to 2007-2012. Another goal is to increase individual tourism spending to $932 per head, a 2.3% increase that would stimulate the country's greater economic development plans. In 2012, 36.7 million tourists spent $798 percapita, according to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. The average tourist spent 10 nights during their stay in 2012, with the 1Q2013 figure reaching an 11.2-night duration on average, down slightly from the previous year's record.

With incomes in the region rising, the number of passengers arriving to Turkey via cruise ship is also rising. In 1Q2013, the figure rose by an impressive 108% compared to the same period in 2012, while the number of vessels docking in the country registered a notable 76.1% increase year on year. In total, 37 cruise ships with a record 58,329 tourists on board had arrived in Turkey by May 2013, and the authorities were eagerly expecting 20,000 additional tourists for the month of July in Marmaris, which has recently received increased attention for its resorts and natural attractions.


DEVELOPMENT & INVESTMENT

In terms of investment, the local tourism sector received over TL1.5 billion in investment incentives during 1Q2013. The funds will primarily be allocated toward the creation, licensing, and establishment of 130 tourism investment projects—105 of them new for 2013—according to a statement released by the Mediterranean Touristic Hotels and Investors Association (AKTOB).

The newly planned projects could provide employment opportunities for up to 6,120 employees in the tourism sector, and the facilities have been designed to add 12,600 rooms and 25,300 beds to the local accommodation offering. Of the total development planned, Antalya will see 36% of the incentive investment and Istanbul will receive 11%. Muğla, Mersin, and Hatay will benefit from 5% of the funds.

The Ministry of Culture and Tourism has also launched a plan to specifically target five tourism development regions: Çeşme, Dalaman, Didim, North Antalya, and Manavgat/Oymapınar. With the goal of attracting investment, the proposed plans include the development of set areas that could be appealing to tourists, as well as the appropriate number of beds needed to host the growing number of visitors in each zone. Çeşme has approximately 4,990 hectares of potential tourism development space, and requires investment for the installation of 72,000 beds. Meanwhile, Dalaman could benefit from the development of 8,789 hectares of land and 70,000 beds. Didim and North Antalya could receive 50,000 additional beds each, and Manavgat/Oymapınar is seeking to attract investors interested in developing 5,950 hectares of land and adding 30,000 beds to the accommodation mix.

NEW MEETS OLD

Northeastern Turkey has seen the launch of a number of new projects in the tourism sector, many of them aiming to restore the glory of Turkey's ancient past. However, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism is not initiating this process purely for monetary gain. “Turkey is full of cultural, historical, and natural riches, and our aim is to protect and pass these treasures down as a national inheritance for future generations," Ömer Çelik, Minister of Culture and Tourism, explained to TBY. “To think of tourism as a consumer good would be detrimental to our efforts to foster the identity of being a nation of culture." Therefore, the authorities are striving to enhance Turkey's cultural heritage for the local citizens while at the same time presenting it to an international audience.

In Izmir, a city regarded as the capital of the world-famous Levantine culture, a series of ancient mansions are expected to open up to tourists for the first time. Once restoration work is complete in 2013, organized tours will lead visitors through the mansions in the neighborhoods of Bornova and Buca. Although most of the original Levantine homes were demolished after the Republic of Turkey was founded, approximately 30 structures survived, with five of them safe enough for tourists. According to the local authorities, the support of local administrations is necessary for all of the mansions to be considered a tourism destination.

Meanwhile in Kocaeli, the Roman-era Yazlık Spring re-opened its facilities after nearly two millennia out of service. In addition to offering visitors the experience of bathing in water believed to have a healing effect on skin diseases, rheumatism, and neurological and bone problems, tourists can enjoy a Turkish bath, sauna, steam rooms, salt rooms, massage rooms, and a mud spa at the 700,000-sqm site.

HOTELS WITH MICE

Although Turkey has emerged as a leading country in a variety of tourism segments, its success in the MICE market is of special importance to hotels and businessmen. With over 100 events lined up for 2H2013, the hotels segment is eager to demonstrate Turkish hospitality with a business flair over the course of the year.

Boasting 19 meeting rooms of various sizes that can cater to up to 800 people, the Crowne Plaza Harbiye has some of Istanbul's best facilities for international conferences and events. The largest meeting room is on the roof of the hotel, with an amazing city view, and holds 400 people. Önder Dinler, General Manager of the Crowne Plaza Harbiye, assured TBY that the hotel “provides all the equipment, features, and facilities that MICE tourists demand, including work desks, ergonomic chairs, Ottoman-style couches, and big-screen TVs," making it a prime hotel for corporate travelers and business people.

In Ankara, congresses, seminars, and the activities organized by medical tourism and state institutions are the major factors that make an impact on the occupancy rate of the capital city's tourism season, which is generally year round. Heavily dependent on MICE, “Ankara has no cultural product other than the Anatolian Civilizations Museum and is far from national cultural and historical treasures such as Ephesus and Hierapolis," Aytekin İşçi, General Manager of Sürmeli Hotel Ankara, told TBY. “The city is being left out by travel agencies due to the fact that it has no natural sites of beauty, beaches, marinas, or coastline." For that reason, İşçi emphasized the importance of capitalizing on the presence of business travelers and maximizing the luxury corporate clients have access to at Ankara's many five-star hotels.

Nevertheless, Turkey has yet to reach its true potential in the MICE tourism segment. Although MICE events bring a large number of people together and create important value-added for the destinations and properties involved, hotels such as the Ramada Plaza Ankara are focused on redesigning their services to provide better value for MICE travelers. “We implemented new conceptual technologies to our services, which will create unique event experiences," Barış Tekin, General Manager of Ramada Plaza Ankara, explained. Through the efforts of larger hotel chains, the segment can expect to see a trickle-down effect as more and more hotels step up to provide the best offering for Turkey's valuable MICE clientele.