The Turkish tourism sector has been facing its share of challenges, but stakeholders are confident that with a steady focus on Turkey’s tourism diversity, there is every reason to be optimistic. Lucie Robson writes.
An attractive mix of the familiarity of home and the spice of international influence makes Turkey an even more appropriate vacation and business destination for the already strong MENA market.
Tourism authorities are meeting the fallout of local unrest head on in order to recover losses, with planned representation in 150 international tourism fairs this year, rekindling relations with vital markets, and multiple campaigns to promote the cultural and natural riches of the country.
The details of one of the most central of these were delivered to travel professionals in February by President Tayyip Erdogan himself under a ‘Tourism Emergency Action Plan’. He called on the five million Turkish nationals living abroad to ‘bring their neighbours’ when returning to their homeland for vacations. Calling Turkish expats ‘tourism ambassadors’, he urged them to spread the word about the riches that await any visitor to Turkey.
Veteran tourism professionals are taking a level-headed stance towards recent unrest, emphasising that connecting with guests is key in order to send a message of security.
“At the end of the day, we should make a couple of major operational and market-wise adaptations to see the point of view of the future,” said general manager, Ciragan Palace Kempinski Istanbul, Ralph Radtke, who is also the regional director of Kempinski Residences in Turkey. “We shouldn’t be focusing only on the cost, which will affect the guests’ experiences at Ciragan Palace, because we want our guests to leave the hotel with everlasting memories. We should also reinforce security measures according to our guest profile. We also try to be more active on social media, especially during these chaotic periods, just to show that we are here and we have a secure environment.”
The isolated nature of recent unrest is also a critical point, said owner of Travel Info Exchange and publisher of TurkeyTravelPlanner.com, Tom Brosnahan.
“It must be remembered that millions of foreign travellers continue to visit Turkey each year and the number actually impacted by terrorist events is extremely small,” Brosnahan, who has written about Turkey since 1968, told TTG. “Turkish authorities have taken vigorous and comprehensive measures to improve security.”
In the meantime, the adage ‘some things never change’ could fit the Turkish tourism product for all the right reasons. At the same time, plenty is changing and, again, it can only be a good development for MENA visitors.
General manager, Tatilsa Travel, Kurtulus Daglı, who is also the tourism manager of the World Travel Channel, told TTG that in 2016, 2.5 million travellers visited Turkey from the MENA region. Generally, they show a preference for Istanbul and the Black Sea resorts, he said, but new destinations are opening up.
“Turkey, by nature and culture, has always been an attractive destination to travellers from the Middle East and North Africa,” general manager, Swissotel The Bosphorus Istanbul, Gerhard Struger told TTG. “Istanbul, Trabzon, Antalya and Bursa are famous in MENA markets. However, Turkey has more to offer. New destinations such as Bodrum and Izmir are trending at the moment.”
Turkey has diversified its tourism product to go beyond the traditional offerings of sun, sea and sand to include cultural, gastronomical and medical tourism, a growing sector owing to the quality and competitive pricing for services. Additionally, MENA visitors have long been attracted to Turkey because of its sensitivity to the Halal cultural needs of both leisure and business travellers to the region.
General manager, Park Hyatt Istanbul – Macka Palas, Gözde Eren said this sensitivity comes naturally to the sector, owing to the ‘melting pot’ character of Turkey’s cultural history. “Islam is part of this rich heritage and we know how to cater to the needs of Muslim travellers who do not wish to compromise on their faith-based needs while travelling,” she said.
Brosnahan spoke of the support of the Turkish government for expanding and refining the Halal tourist product, be it for shopping, swimming or play for the children. Tourism infrastructure projects are on the agenda too.
“Among these is the proposed scenic highway through the mountains along Turkey’s Black Sea coast, a region of forests, rich verdure and great natural beauty of particular interest to visitors from more arid climates,” he said.
Social media has been a big game changer too. Eren explained that it had enabled companies to have their own advertising channels, while the Ciragan Palace Kempinski hosts several top media, influencers, as well as VIPs from royal families, worldwide celebrities and business tycoons.
So while the sector is facing uncertainty, it is also determined to continue to offer its best with the preferences of MENA travellers continuing to be firmly at the centre of the agenda.
Perhaps Secretary-General, United Nations World Tourism Organisation, Taleb Rifai spoke for everyone at the 21st East Mediterranean International Tourism and Travel exhibition in January.
He said the best way to respond to threat is to continue to travel to Turkey.
“There is no reason why things should not go well in the tourism industry if Turkey maintains stability,” general manager, Mandarin Oriental, Bodrum, Guenter Gebhard said. “We have personally seen how much Turkey is in demand, even in trying times.”