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Kurdish problem takes toll on Turkey's tourism

Touristclick Turkey Travel News

Kurdish problem takes toll on Turkey's tourism

by Leah Bower, Special to Gulf News

Turkey's troubles with Kurdish separatists and its proximity to the Iraq war have hit its travel and tourism market hard, a devastating blow to a country which depends heavily on an influx of foreign money.

It is a trend the country, which straddles Asia and Europe both physically and culturally, is planning to reverse this year.

"$8 million was spent last year to advertise Turkish tourism," said Hasan Zongur, Director of the Turkish Cultural and Tourism office in the US.

"[The situation] is getting better, but after 9/11, tourism numbers dropped. For this year, it is getting better. This is mainly because of our public relations activities and promotional campaigns carried out in the US market and in the South American countries and Canada."

According to Business Monitor International (BMI), everything from terrorist attacks in Turkey to the war in Lebanon and a bird flu outbreak kept tourism numbers low in 2006 - 6.2 per cent lower year-on-year than in 2005.

"In line with the fall in foreign tourist arrivals, international tourist receipts declined in 2006 by around four per cent year-on-year to $18.6 billion. This followed a near 15 per cent year-on-year rise in international tourist receipts in the previous year," said BMI's third quarter report on Turkish tourism.

"While the country has repeatedly seen annual increases in the number of visitors of 10 per cent 15 per cent over the past 15 years, there have been several significant reversals in growth, such as during the 1991 Gulf War, which saw arrivals fall by more than 20 per cent, and the 2003 Gulf War."

But despite a rocky recent past, the future of Turkish tourism looks promising. The country has the eighth-highest tourism receipts in the world and is benefiting from a steadily strong euro, which gives it an advantage over rival destinations such as Greece.


BMI reported that the number of foreign arrivals reached almost 9.7 million between January and June 2007, an increase of almost 17 per cent of 2006's weak numbers. "Although BMI had anticipated a recovery in the tourism market in 2007, recent data are even stronger than expected," the report said.

Those are the kinds of numbers Turkey needs, considering the economic importance of its tourism market.

The travel and tourism market is expected to generate $62.6 billion in econ-omic activity this year, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. It also accounts for one in very 14.6 per cent of jobs - about 1.56 million in 2007.

Zongur said Turkey is looking to branch out into areas of tourism new to the country that boasts relics from the Byzantine, Roman and Ottoman empires.

"Now we are developing our health tourism facilities," he said. "We also have great facilities for conferences." BMI expects Turkey's medical tourism sector to increasingly draw patients from Europe and the Middle East, but also named golf tourism as a likely growth area.

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