In Search of a Rebound in Turkey’s Tourism

The year 2016 was a year of loss for tourism, a key sector in bringing in robust income for Turkey. Nothing will recover the sector overnight, but we could see a gradual recovery if the sector takes some crucial steps in several areas.

Turkey has two main tourism destinations, which need to be preserved carefully: Istanbul and the Mediterranean resort of Antalya. Let me present some data of great significance for the sector related to these two destinations.

The number of foreign arrivals to Antalya, another top tourism destination, also plummeted to their lowest since 2004.

The number of foreign arrivals to Antalya declined to 6 million in 2016, a 43 percent fall compared to 2015, mainly due to the Russian crisis and rising security concerns.

The number of foreign tourists visiting Istanbul declined to 9.2 million in 2016, a 26 percent fall compared to the previous year, according to data from the Istanbul Culture and Tourism Directorate. This was the first year-on-year decrease in the number of foreign arrivals to Istanbul since 2000, amid escalating security concerns.

Overall, Istanbul dropped from the world’s sixth top visited tourism destination to eighth in MasterCard’s 2016 Global Destination Cities Index. According to the index, based on estimates from industry data, Istanbul’s international visitor arrivals decreased the most among all top 20 destinations. With a fall of 11.4 percent, Istanbul also saw the biggest contraction in visitor spending among the top 10, which is composed of Bangkok, London, Paris, Dubai, New York, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Istanbul, Tokyo and Seoul.

Istanbul remained the third most visited destination in Europe in 2016. But unlike other top-ranked European destination cities, some 58 percent of international visitors in Istanbul are from outside of Europe. In terms of the origins of visitors, Germany leads with 11 percent to Istanbul, followed by Iran, Russia, and the U.S. all at 5 percent, and the U.K. at 4 percent.

According to Istanbul Culture and Tourism Directorate data, the largest number of foreign tourists still came from Europe with 3.9 million arrivals and the Middle East with 2.3 million. They were followed by Asia, Africa, North America, Latin America and Oceania. Top sender markets for Istanbul were Germany, Iran and Saudi Arabia in 2016, marking a significant change in the last decade, as in 2006 the top markets for Istanbul were Germany, Russia and the U.K.

The city saw a 22.5 percent fall in the number of arrivals from its top market Germany in 2016 compared to 2015 and a 14.2 percent year-on-year fall in arrivals from Iran, although there was a 15.6 percent of year-on-year increase in arrivals from Saudi Arabia.

While arrivals from Arab countries into Istanbul took a 22 percent share of the total in 2016, up from 11 percent in 2011, arrivals from Arab countries saw a 22 percent year-on-year decrease in 2016.

These figures tell us many things. First of all, Turkey needs to address the security and safety concerns for all potential comers, as well as for its own citizens. Fortunately, there has been no major attack since the start of the year, and this should be maintained in a robust way.

What’s more, all tourists, irrespective of their reason of purpose, want to enjoy their travel time and do not want to visit any country that faces crisis-like tensions with their own country. It is therefore key for Turkey to develop its diplomatic ties with others, including the recent normalization in bilateral ties with Russia. For instance, the number of tourists visiting Antalya saw a sharp rise in April, with a 40 percent increase since the same month in 2016. Arrivals from Russia soared by 15.5 times during the period, data from the Antalya Governor’s Office showed.

Turkey has always gained much from its unique position as a bridge between the West and the East. Most tourists from the West and the East actually want to see a mixture of these ways of life together. If one side wins in this unique pendulum, Turkey will surely lose its tourism attraction.

Finally, Turkey must work to protect its tourism treasures, including İstiklal Avenue, the historical peninsula and the Bosphorus, among others. The current state of İstiklal Avenue – connecting to a concrete-filled square, with an emptied culture and art center, and without a historical tramway – is a long way from being any kind of center of attraction for either tourists or locals.

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