Although only 3 per cent of its territory –the region known as eastern Thrace –is geographically part of Europe, Turkey belongs to that continent rather than to the Middle East. The country is in many ways distinct from its Arab neighbours to the south, and throughout history has acted as a cultural ‘ bridge ’between East and West. It controls the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus, the strategic waterways linking the Mediterranean to the Black Sea. Turkey’s European credentials are underlined by its participation in a number of sport and cultural events, and the selection of Istanbul as European capital of culture for 2010. Turkey under the Ottoman Sultans dominated not only much of Europe between the fi fteenth and nineteenth centuries but also the Middle East and most of North Africa. However this was a multi-cultural empire quite different in character from the national state of today. The heritage of the Ottoman Empire is a major part of the fascination the country holds for Western visitors. Turkish traditional culture, including one of the world’s fi nest cuisines, craft industries such as carpet weaving, and the performing arts, help to give the country a clearly defi ned tourist image. Yet for many centuries prior to the arrival of the Turks from Central Asia, the region then known as Asia Minor was occupied by many earlier civilisations, including the Hittites, Ancient Greece and the Roman and Byzantine empires. Turkey is extraordinarily rich in antiquities as a result, but not all of these are given adequate protection. Turkey is a large country by European standards, with the natural advantage of having an extensive, and for the most part, picturesque coastline along three seas – the Mediterranean, the Aegean and the Black Sea. The heartland of Turkey is less attractive, largely consisting of the semi-arid steppes of the Anatolian Plateau. This is separated from the fertile coastlands by a ring of mountain ranges. The climate is generally favourable for tourism, except in the mountainous north-east, which suffers from winters of almost Siberian intensity. The Black Sea coast receives a good deal of rain throughout the year, in contrast to the rest of the country. Turkey also has the advantages of relative political stability, and an economy that is strong enough, despite infl ation, for its application for European Union membership to be taken seriously. This is due in no small measure to the reforms carried out by Kamal Atatu”rk after the abolition of the sultanate in 1923. He imposed Western institutions, the Roman alphabet and Western dress, and removed organised religion from politics. As a result, the infl uence of Islam is much less evident than in neighbouring Iran and the Arab countries of the Middle East, particularly in the cities of western Turkey. Nevertheless since 2003 the moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been in power, and many see its success as a challenge to the secular state. As in other developing countries, the population is growing faster than job creation and the provision of public services. This explains the two million Turkish immigrants working in Germany and other countries of western Europe, and the growth of shanty towns (known as gekekondu) around Istanbul and Ankara to accommodate the even greater numbers of rural immigrants from eastern Anatolia.
THE DEMAND FOR TOURISM With a population of over 70 million, there is a large domestic market for tourism, but travel propensities are low by west European standards.
INBOUND TOURISM Despite having much to offer the tourist, Turkey did not participate in the boom in Mediterranean beach tourism that characterised the 1970s because:
● It was expensive to reach;
● The country was poorly promoted and
● Turkey did not seek to enter the inclusive tour market.
This situation changed when tourism was included in the government’s Five Year Plans. Charter fl ights were permitted, and the country was ‘ discovered ’by the major European tour operators. As a result, the numbers of visitors trebled during the 1980s but growth subsequently slowed as a result both of the 1991 Gulf War and also the adverse publicity about the poor standard of some accommodation in the Aegean holiday resorts of Bodrum and Kusadasi. In 2007, Turkey attracted over 23 million international visitors. Germany is by far the most important generator of tourism for Turkey, followed by Russia, the Central Asian republics and the UK. Britain was a latecomer on the scene, but despite predictions to the contrary, Turkey’s popularity with the British market as a value-for-money destination shows no sign of waning. Business and conference tourism is being encouraged by new convention centres in both Istanbul and Ankara. THE SUPPLY SIDE OF TOURISM TRANSPORT In the early stages of tourism development, most visitors arrived by surface transport, but since the 1990s the majority of visitors arrive by air. Istanbul’s Atat ü rk Airport is the busiest gateway, serving the country’s leading cultural and business centre, while Ankara, despite being the capital since 1923, ranks far behind in terms of international traffi c. A number of regional airports have been developed to serve the west European holiday market in south-west Turkey, namely Izmir, Bodrum-Milas, Dalaman and Antalya. The national carrier Turkish Airlines provides a network of international and domestic services. Travel by road and rail from the main generating countries to Turkey is at a disadvantage, not only because of the distances involved, but also through the delays at border crossings caused by political turmoil in neighbouring countries. Turkish State Railways operates over a limited network, but most internal travel is by road, using inter-city bus services, and over shorter distances by the dolmus, a type of collective taxi. Other than cruise passengers and day excursionists from Rhodes, relatively few visitors arrive by sea, although Turkish Maritime Services operate ferries from Izmir to Italy and Greece, and from Mersin to Turkish North Cyprus. ACCOMMODATION Turkey can offer a considerable stock of both hotel and self-catering accommodation, but these are mainly used by foreign visitors as most domestic tourists prefer to stay with relatives. For the more adventurous traveller there are the traditional inns or caravanserai in the more remote parts of the country. ORGANISATION Tourism is the responsibility of a minister at cabinet level, and tourism development is included in the government’s Five Year Plans for the economy. Holiday tourism is both highly seasonal and concentrated in a small part of the country, namely the south-west coastal strip. This concentration of tourism is largely the result of short-sighted planning in the 1980s when the Ministry of Tourism envisaged coastal development on a massive scale. A number of resorts in the area have already experienced most stages in the tourist area life-cycle, from initial discovery by wealthy Turkish families, yachtsmen, and a few backpackers; through development by small specialist tour operators; to consolidation by large companies serving the mass market. In some resorts, the environmental impact of tourism has been considerable, but elsewhere, as at Ol üDeniz, famed for its beautiful beach and lagoon, development has been confi ned to the hills overlooking the coast. In a rare instance, that of the Dalyan delta, development was halted altogether following protests by environmentalists. This shows that the Turkish government is willing to forego short-term profi t in the cause of conservation, and to learn belatedly from the mistakes made by other Mediterranean destinations.
South-west Turkey can be divided into the following holiday areas:
● The Northern Aegean lies to the north of Izmir. This area caters mainly for domestic tourists. It does include the site of the ancient city of Troy which is fi rmly on the tourism circuit, and the First World War battlefi eld at Gelibolu (Gallipoli) beside the Dardanelles, which attracts large numbers of Australians and New Zealanders.
● The Southern Aegean lies between Izmir and Dalaman. The environmental and cultural impacts of mass tourism have been most evident in Marmaris, where over-development and brash commercialism are rife, and at Gumbet on the Bodrum Peninsula, now easily accessible from the new airport. Although a lively resort, Bodrum itself has preserved more of its Turkish ambience, due largely to its superb setting on a bay dominated by a Crusader castle.
● The Turquoise Coast or ‘ Turkish Riviera ’around the Gulf of Antalya is backed by the pine-covered Lycian and Taurus mountain ranges. The resorts of Antalya, Alanya and Side contain many large up-market hotels, but other resorts, such as Kalkan, lack suitable beaches and are small and less sophisticated. Apart from the standard beach holiday, south-west Turkey can also offer a choice of cultural, special interest, and activity tourism products, including:
● Sailing holidays. The coastline, with its many harbours, secluded coves inaccessible by road, and warm sunny climate with reliable afternoon breezes, is ideal for sailing. Bareboat yacht charter is available, but most holidaymakers prefer a g ü let cruise –on a traditional wooden motor yacht, with Turkish skipper, crew and full-board arrangements.
● Golf . The purpose-built resort of Belek on the Gulf of Antalya claims to be Turkey’s answer to the Costa Del Sol.
● Spa tourism. The unique natural resource provided by the calcifi ed springs at Pammukkale has been known since Roman times.
● Activity and adventure holidays. In the mountains close to the coastal holiday resorts, the lifestyle of the villagers has been little affected by the twenty fi rst century. Trekking, jeep safaris and white-water rafting are offered by a number of specialist tour operators.
● Cultural tourism. Here the emphasis is on the ancient civilisations that fl ourished in this coastal region. Some of the most important sites are within easy reach of the coastal resorts. Of these, Ephesus is the most visited. It was one of the greatest cities of the Roman Empire, and with its well-preserved theatre and library, is a ‘ must-see ’attraction, but there are many other sites such as Bergama (Pergamum) that are less well known, and as a result, much less crowded. Most of Turkey’s heritage attractions and antiquities are less accessible, as they are located away from the coast and are widely dispersed across the Anatolian Plateau. This necessitates a lengthy coach tour or internal fl ight to Ankara, Kayseri or Erzurum. The following deserve special mention:
● The strange lunar landscapes of Cappadocia where the soft volcanic rock provided a refuge for early Christian communities, complete with underground churches and cave dwellings;
● The Armenian monasteries around Lake Van in eastern Turkey and
● The ancient monuments at Nemrut Dagh, a World Heritage Site. Even in this remote area, visitor management and conservation are major issues. The major cultural attractions for most visitors to Turkey however lie in Istanbul, the former capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. This city of 15 million people has become a popular short-break destination for the following reasons:
● It is a major meeting point of East and West, with two bridges across the Bosphorus literally linking Asia to Europe;
● It contains the fi nest achievement of Byzantine architecture –Aya Sofya (Holy Wisdom), built in the sixth century by the Emperor Justinian as the largest church in Christendom, converted into a mosque by Sultan Mohammed II in 1453, and secularised as a museum by Atat ü rk;
● The Blue Mosque, with its six minarets, is one of the most outstanding examples of Islamic architecture;
● The Grand Bazaar is a ‘ must-see ’for bargain-hunters, with over 4000 shops under one roof;
● The Topkapi Palace evokes the splendour, intrigue and mystery of the Ottoman empire, particularly the harem or women’s quarters and
● The Cagalogl üHamman provides the experience of a Turkish bath, another traditional institution of the Muslim world, with separate sections for men and women.