Tourism blends tradition as Ramadan spreads in summers

Tourism blends tradition as Ramadan spreads in summers

A conservative family is observing one of their children playing with water near a swimming pool at a five-star hotel that offers special services to its guests during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

August 28, 2011, Sunday/ 12:26:00/ ERGİN HAVA

A relatively new tourism concept designed to attract pious visitors -- with services that cater to such sensitivities as gender-segregated beaches and non-alcoholic beverages -- have become attractive, particularly with the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan falling in the summer season in the past two to three years in Turkey.

The number of hotels that boast unique vacation resorts to serve this new brand of tourism, mostly described as alternative or conservative tourism, have increased in the past few years, and they have grown in popularity to attract more and more customers every passing year.

Dependant on the lunar calendar, the dates for Ramadan vary on the solar calendar, moving backward 10 days each year. Ramadan in Turkey will fall during the summer for the next five years, and there has been speculation this would lead to lackluster summer seasons for the “alternative tourism” sector. However, recent figures rebut this argument; hotels have experienced an even better performance this Ramadan as compared to the past. Sunday’s Zaman spoke with hotel managers to see how business was during Ramadan and what their expectations are now that the Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of the holy month, is around the corner.

The general manager of Club Familia, an alternative tourism facility in İzmir’s famous Çeşme resort, Ruhat Ülgen Cengiz, told Sunday’s Zaman that they’ll end Ramadan with a 60 percent occupancy rate. Cengiz says this is an improvement as compared to the previous Ramadan summer season. One prominent fact behind the hotels’ ever-improving performance was that they increased efforts to revive the charming atmosphere created by old traditions usually associated with Ramadan, which surely helped attract relatively more visitors to our facilities, Cengiz argued. “But also the perception is changing. … People did not used to associate fasting with a sea or summer vacation in the past. But today more people spend Ramadan in hotels than in recent years.” She said they cut prices by almost 50 percent in Ramadan and also tried such new methods as keeping pools and lighted beaches open until dawn and offering group prayers. Cengiz has some reservations though. “People who do not prefer to fast, and those who fast arrive in our hotel at the same time; this may create some problems. Both sides may sometimes complain, but we have to offer services in line with pious customers’ sensitivities.” Cengiz said they have decided not to offer drinks in open areas during Ramadan in anticipation of a swift solution to the problem. “You can’t tell non-practicing people not to come in Ramadan or segregate them,” she added. Still, Cengiz asserted conservative tourism hotels should stick to their original concept, which appeals to pious tourists.

The five-star Alaiya Adin Beach Hotel is one example of newly opened hotels in the fast growing sector. Alaiya’s manager Selim Soylu told Sunday’s Zaman they offered diversified services and concentrated more on iftar (fast-breaking meal) and sahur (pre-dawn meal) programs this Ramadan. The hotel manager said they expected to end Ramadan with a 30 percent occupancy rate, adding this figure was “normal” for a new facility, which opened at the beginning of this summer season. Soylu said the number of visitors increased through the final days of Ramadan. “People wanted to enjoy the final few days of Ramadan and the Eid al-Fitr holiday all together at our hotel. … The fact that the start of the school this year was delayed until after the Eid al-Fitr holiday also helped us see an increase in bookings,” he explained. Soylu is right since many Turks schedule their vacations to coincide with school breaks. Soylu said they reached an occupancy rate of 100 percent days ahead of the holiday. “We have also increased the share of money allocated for promotion but more is needed,” he noted. According to Soylu, the perception of the Ramadan holidays is changing as more people favor vacationing during the holy month and this will benefit alternative tourism even more in the years to follow.

Şah Inn Paradise Manager Yusuf Yücel said they reached 100 percent occupancy this Ramadan, a new record in the sector for Ramadan. “We recruit imams to lead the prayers and other extra rituals special for Ramadan.” Muslims are encouraged to increase their reading of the holy book, and reciting the entire Quran during this month is called “mukabele” in Turkish where people gather and read verses from the Quran in turn. Yücel said visitors participate in different programs from the Tarawih prayer -- a congregational prayer that Muslims perform after the night prayer during Ramadan -- until sahur, and prefer to rest until mid-day. They later attend mukabele sessions, read books or pray themselves. Yücel said they concentrated on activities and programs that reflect a traditional aspect of Ramadan. They chose a concept similar to that of İstanbul’s Sultanahmet Square, named after the famous Sultanahmet Camii (Blue Mosque), which has been the center of traditional Ramadan entertainment in the old capital for a long time. Tasawwuf (Sufi) music concerts and live ezan (call to prayer) five times a day are among the extras offered special for Ramadan. Yücel said Turkish people loved this concept and that hotels have to follow this trend, otherwise they will suffer losses.

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