Turkey’s current rapid rise as an economic and financial marketplace notwithstanding, it was the tourism industry that first and foremost put the country on the map, not just for international visitors but for much-appreciated domestic and foreign investors, too.

Today the sector continues to be a key contributor to Turkey’s domestic income and a major factor in helping to establish “Turkey, the brand.” To underline this tremendous success story, at present the country ranks seventh in the most-visited global destinations, according to the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

Let us quickly recall how it all began. Serious numbers of inbound tourists did not arrive on these shores until early in the 1980s, and even then we must say it was a slow start at best. Whereas 1.2 million international tourists visited Turkey during the year 1980, it took half a decade until that figure doubled and a further five years before it doubled again (5.4 million visitors in 1990). It was not until the year 2000 that Turkish tourism operators were able to record the first rather significant increase, resulting in 10.4 million visitors that year alone. From then on, with the exception of the year 2006, Turkey witnessed constant growth in its figures of inbound tourists, reaching a remarkable 28.63 million in 2010. The outlook for the about-to-end summer season of 2011 is more than promising.

Actually, when Turkey’s Minister of Culture and Tourism Ertuğrul Günay was quoted as saying that Turkey would achieve its target of hosting 30 million tourists by the end of 2011, he had based his assumption on the very encouraging figures for the first seven months of this year, which had already seen an increase of 10.64 percent when compared with data from 2010.

Looking beyond the data as mentioned above

reveals a more diverse picture. By counting only the ever increasing number of visitors and relying on a never-ending upward trend, the sector is about to make a serious error; besides, it is wrong to automatically assume that the more people visit a particular destination the better it is for the town and region and for local business. Today’s tourists most definitely like visiting Turkey, but the secret is to keep them coming back as repeat customers, which is what every hospitality entrepreneur (regardless of being a hotelier or restaurateur) really wants.


To turn a first-time visitor into a repeat customer a destination needs the highest possible level of service standards. Repeat customers want to explore the neighbourhood outside their hotels in safety and comfort. They expect an adequate and functioning local infrastructure. They demand that the staff is well trained, friendly and efficient and refrains from hassling at all times. They want value for money.

Mass tourism destinations are a melting pot of different backgrounds and nationalities: The top 10 countries where inbound tourists come from (current for 2010, Ministry of Culture and Tourism) are Germany, which takes the top spot; the Russian Federation, which comes runner up; and Britain a happy third. They are followed by Iran, Bulgaria, Georgia, Netherlands, France, Syria and Italy. These destinations need skilled management to avoid alienating both locals and foreigners at the same time.

This requires keeping alive a mixture of local traditions (food, music, customs), while tolerating the international guests’ legitimate desire to find a little bit of home away from home — for example, restaurants called Little Britain, Stadt Hamburg or Moscow, satellite television to watch their weekly soap or favorite soccer team and adequate establishments to socialize with fellow nationals once or twice a week.

In this context, and taking Turkey’s constantly growing reputation as a globally cherished holiday destination into account, it is not unlikely that over the next decade or so inbound tourism figures may well reach beyond the 40 million mark, but the question is whether such a high number will be sustainable both from an environmental and a business administration perspective. Diversification could well be the answer, directing future visitors, not only to the well-established sunshine belt, but much further inland, too. City tourism attracting visitors to İstanbul and other metropolises as well as mid-sized destinations, eco-tourism, health tourism, winter tourism and faith tourism are only a few such possibilities.

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