WITH the year 2005 having been a record year for tourism to Turkey, with 21 million international visitors, a difficult 2006 meant the industry was not able to raise that number much further.
Turkish Tourism Investors Association (TYD) head Oktay Varlier told Reuters that the number of foreign tourists to visit Turkey is expected to remain largely unchanged in 2007.
'It looks that we will not be able to exceed 21 million tourists (visiting) this year. ... Next year, we can at most attain this year's numbers if we do not embark on a very aggressive image campaign,” the agency quoted him as saying.
He said the TYD, which represents most big hotels and holiday resorts as well as many tour operators, expected tourism numbers and revenues to fall 5-6 per cent in 2006 versus 2005.
Turkey's key tourism sector was badly damaged last year by a bombing campaign by Kurdish separatists, a crisis over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), which sparked riots across the Muslim world, and an outbreak of bird flu in the Southeast.
Tourism revenues are crucial for Turkey to finance its large current account deficit, which jumped 60 percent in the first nine months to $25.33 billion.
Turkey’s government has said it hopes for $20 billion in revenues from the tourism sector in 2006. Data for the third quarter released last month showed that revenues fell 8.9 per cent in the peak tourism months July-Sept from last year.
Varlier said it was too early to give details for next year, but said the first signals did not hint at a rise. “Information we obtained from a London tourism fair shows that British reservations for next year are not higher than 2006,” he said.
Europe's second largest tourism firm Thomas Cook said late last year it saw stagnation in the German tourism market next summer. Germans are the biggest foreign tourist group visiting Turkey each year. According to estimates for 2006, there was a 22 per cent decrease in the number of German tourists, reported the Turkish Daily News.
Varlier said rivals Spain and Greece benefited from Turkey's woes and urged the government to launch an image campaign.
“The tendency to see Turkey as a Middle Eastern country (rather than a European country) has become too great. We need to show that Turkey has another face,” he said. The image of Turkey as a backward conservative country at the border of a turbulent Middle East region has scared off many European tourists. The Tourism Ministry's $70 million budget for image campaigns was not enough, he said, adding that an independent body, which includes representatives of the tourism sector, could on the other hand handle a successful image campaign.
A surplus of hotels on the country's Mediterranean coast was creating tough competition and was responsible for reducing prices to unreasonable levels, he said. “In Antalya, 130,000 new rooms are available. A room is sold for nine or 10 euros in four-five star hotels. This is very wrong and the tourism sector cannot survive with such prices,” he said. The businesses incur losses at such low prices even if they are able to sell the rooms to tourists.
Meanwhile, according to a statement issued at November’s World Travel Market, Turkey will continue apace in 2007 with a promotional campaign that focuses on Istanbul as a city break destination. The Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism has recently announced the appointment of a new advertising agency, the Germany-based SEA group, which is a subsidiary of Media Square. They will conduct the new multi-million pound campaign – largely in the UK – which was to start with a heavy burst of TV advertising just after Christmas, following through with press, outdoor and radio advertising.
International chains continue to invest in Turkey with Movenpick set to open a new property in Izmir in 2007 and the opening of Swissotel's Bursa hotel set for 2008. The substantial number of international companies investing in luxury hotels shows great confidence in the market and in Turkey's ability to attract a new generation of upmarket tourist.
Meanwhile, the trend for five-star theme hotels continues with the opening of the Queen Elizabeth joining existing establishments such as the Topkapi Palace and the Kremlin Palace.
Much of the recent growth in Turkey's bed capacity has been at the top end of the market and there are now boutique and luxury hotels throughout the country. Many exclusive properties have opened in Istanbul over the past year or so, including establishments such as Les Ottomans, the Ajia and the Sumahan.
Golf in Turkey, meanwhile, is going from strength to strength with numerous new courses planned throughout the country. The most recent course to open is the the Faldo Championship Golf Course at the Cornelia Golf Resort designed by six times major championship winner, Nick Faldo. It is the latest addition to Turkey's golfing capital, Belek, which now has a total of eight courses. The Papillon Montgomerie Golf Course, designed by world-famous golfer, Colin Montgomerie, also in Belek is due to open next year as is the new LykiaGolf Antalya, owned by Turkey's prestigious LykiaGroup, which will have the first Links Course in Turkey.
Finally, rules on public land allocation in Turkey have changed. Whereas previously, land was allocated to one hotel or holiday village, the Ministry of Culture & Tourism is now allocating land for entire resorts. This provides exciting new opportunities for local and international investors alike. New areas for development will be announced shortly.
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