Turkey is targeting meetings and conference planners in the Gulf and Middle East region in its drive to increase its share of the growing MICE market worldwide.
And the participation of the Turkish Tourism Ministry in this month's AIBTM is an indicator of this approach, says Hasan Zongur, the information attache at the Turkish Tourism and Information Office based in Kuwait.
Zongur said that Turkey which has many facilities to offer meetings planners and organisers, aims to become the centre of the regional MICE industry and the country's attendance in AIBTM is geared to "catching this opportunity".
He said that while Turkey had increased its share of the tourism market in the world in the recent years, drawing more than 10.6 million visitors in the first 10 months of 2001, it had yet to make inroads in the MICE sector.
"This situation shows that MICE industry has to be given more importance," he said.
"We will encourage private sector to look for new opportunities in the Middle East. We also plan to organise some familiarisation trips to Turkey for promotion of MICE industry facilities in Turkey."
He said tourist arrivals from the Gulf had soared in 2001 - the over 300 per cent growth far outstripping the overall Middle East increase of 39 per cent. He said the Gulf surge was led by Qatar, Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait.
Zongur said Turkish tourism had had a limited impact from the September 11 attacks in the US.
"It is true that some reservations were cancelled from some European countries and USA for a few weeks following September 11, but now it seems everything has come back to normal," he said.
"As for Gulf countries, no decrease has been observed in the tourist numbers. On the contrary, tourist numbers have continued to increase."
He attributed the growth in tourist arrivals from the region to "effective promotional campaigns" launched by his office.
The tourism office was also introducing new destinations in the country to the regional markets.
"Arab people who up to now especially have been preferring only Istanbul, Bursa, Yalova and Bolu, have lately begun to go towards new areas in the north of Turkey such as Trabzon, Rize and Kastamonu," said Zongur.
"According to our market research, the Black Sea region will be the main destination for Gulf citizens in near future because of its green nature, fresh air, fresh food, cool climate, warmth and traditional lifestyle of the Black Sea people and new accomodation establishments plus rich opportunities to rent houses and villas on mountains and plateaus."
He said Turkish tour operators were working with travel agencies in the Gulf to offer attractive packages to old favourites such as Istanbul and new destinations.
Turkey was also diversifying its tourism attractions offering visitors increased options like health tourism, yachting, underwater diving, rafting, windsurfing, fishing, golf, air sports, hunting, winter sports, mountaineering, trekking, horseback riding, plateau hiking etc.
Zongur said Middle East visitors currently accounted for just 1.66 per cent of Turkish tourism market compared to more than 61 per cent of tourists coming to Turkey from the European Union countries.
He said the ministry aimed to increase the number of Middle East tourist arrivals to at least 10 per cent of total arrivals in the coming years.
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