Turkey's growing allure showed no signs of fading over 2013, with record numbers of tourists putting smiles on the faces of hoteliers across the country.

The number of foreign visitors rose to 34.91 million in 2013, up 9.84% over 2012, according to an announcement by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Turkey thus ranks as the sixth most-visited country in the world based on World Tourism Organization (WTO) data, with Germany its largest source of visitors. And there's plenty more to look forward to, with annual sectorial growth of 10% outstripping the European average of 5%, according to WTO figures, putting Turkey on course to reach its 2023 goal of 50 million visitors annually and triple the profits, including $20 billion from the health tourism sector.

The country's largest city, Istanbul, also received a confidence boost in April 2014, with a TripAdvisor poll naming it the top destination worldwide, knocking Paris off of its perch. With 10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites outside of those in Istanbul, though, there's certainly not a lack of places to go. But while Istanbul remains popular with foreigners, domestic tourists usually opt for resorts along Turkey's Mediterranean coast, with Antalya representing 60% of all early reservations so far in 2014.

The major investment to speak of in 2014 is Istanbul's third airport, currently being built on the European side of Istanbul, close to the Black Sea coast. Once fully operational by 2018, it will be the world's largest, with a capacity of 150 million passengers per year. And for those looking to fly into one of Turkey's many tourist hubs this year, the Ministry's new e-visa system will allow many to avoid long waits at passport control.


The tourism sector represents 3.7% of GDP in Turkey, with revenues up to $32.3 billion in 2013 from $29.4 billion in 2012. This is on the back of a growth in arrivals, up 9.84% in 2013 to 34.91 million. Between 2003 and 2012, arrivals increased with a CAGR of 9.6%, according to a Deloitte report. This has kept the hotel occupancy rate solid, which, according to the same report, was at 54.3% in 2012, up from 51.5% in 2011 and 60.3% compared to France. According to figures from the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TÜRSAB), there were 706,019 beds in the hospitality segment at end-2012, across 2,870 establishments. While foreigners represent the largest share of incoming tourists (78.9%), Turkish expatriates also represent an important market (21.1%). The latter category spent more, at $1,252 per head over the course of their holiday, while foreigners spent $749 on average. In terms of origin, 18.7 million of the total 34.91 million incoming tourists were from Europe, according to Ministry figures. Moving through 2014, it is likely that a weakened lira will tempt more visitors from Europe to Turkish shores, hoping to enjoy greater spending power.


Domestic tourism represents approximately one-quarter of total sector revenues, with 64.9 million trips made in 2012 over 556.8 million nights for an average length of stay of 8.6 nights, according to TurkStat figures. Over the same year, this generated revenues of TL16.73 billion, up from TL15.64 billion in 2011. At the time of writing, 3Q2013 stats suggest an improvement, with TL8.18 million in revenues taken compared to TL7.66 in the same period of 2012. Moving into 2014, 3 million holidaymakers had made reservations as of March, hoping to take advantage of early booking fees. Approximately 60% of early bookings were made at hotels in Antalya, while the remaining 40% reserved spots on sun loungers in Bodrum, Marmaris, Kuşadası, Fethiye, and Çeşme.


Turkey boasts 47 health institutions that are accredited by the Ministry of Health to receive medical tourists, a figure that is expected to rise to 100 by the end of the year. In 2013, 480,000 foreigners received treatment at Turkish medical facilities, which generated revenues of $2.5 billion. The figure still has some way to climb, as by 2023 the government hopes to see the sector bringing in $20 billion a year, including $10 billion by 2018. The Ministry is also on a drive to encourage better language skills among medical professionals, with booklets also being printed in various languages, including English, French, Spanish, and Arabic. The Ministry is especially pushing aesthetic surgery—popular with health tourists from the Middle East—aswell asorthopedics, cardiology, and transplants. With destinations in the region including Dubai and Beirut, as well as popular destinations like Thailand and India not so far away, however, Turkey will have its work cut out if it is to convince lucrative health tourism guests, who often combine surgery with a bit of R&R, to go under the knife in the country.


Istanbul's two airports have been deemed insufficient for Turkey's growth aspirations, and work has recently begun on a third airport close to Istanbul's Black Sea coast. Expected to be the world's largest airport when fully operational in 2018, the project is being developed by a consortium of five Turkish firms, including Cengiz, Kolin, Mapa, Limak, and Kalyon. Victorious at the May 3, 2013 tender, the consortium won the tender with its bid of €22.1 billion. As Istanbul's current largest airport, Atatürk International, has no room to expand, and the second airport, Sabiha Gökçen, is located far from the center of the city, the new airport is expected to quickly become the primary hub for incoming tourists and play a key role in the country's 2023 efforts. The project will take shape over several phases, with a final capacity for 150 million passengers a year.


In 2013, Turkey was elected to the prestigious World Heritage Committee. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism has also forged close ties with UNESCO to develop sustainable tourism systems and protect the country's World Heritage Sites, of which there are 11 in Turkey. Istanbul's historic areas represent one of these sites, which are comprised of both Byzantine and Ottoman treasures including the ramparts of old Constantinople, gems of Byzantine religious heritage including the Chora Church and the Hagia Sophia, as well as the old seat of the Sultans, Topkapı Palace, and the Blue and Süleymaniye mosques. Other Heritage Sites include the ancient city of Troy, Xanthos-Letoon, the former capital of the Hellenic Lycians, the West Black Sea village of Safranbolu, a highly preserved example of a medieval Turkish settlement, the Selimiye Mosque in Edirne, a former capital of the Ottoman Empire, and the Great Mosque and Hospital of Divriği, in Sivas, Central Turkey.

And if you're still not satisfied, Hattusha, the ancient capital of the Hittites, is also on Turkey's World Heritage list, and boasts preserved temples, royal palaces, and defenses built when the city held sway in Anatolia 4,000 years ago, while guests at Nemrut Dağ can enjoy visiting the mausoleum of Antiochus I, who ruled over Commagene, a kingdom that emerged after the collapse of Alexander the Great's empire. Going back further, visitors are also welcomed at the Neolithic Site of Çatalhöyük, two hills over 37 hectares that contain remains of structures, paintings, sculptures, and other art from as long ago as 7400 BC.

With incoming tourist numbers showing no signs of slowing down, and domestic early reservations already looking strong in 2014, Turkey is set for another record-breaking year. A weaker lira should also encourage extra visitors from Europe to part with their cash in exchange for a week or two in a country that is now well established on the travel circuit.