Unique vacation resorts with gender-segregated beaches that don't serve alcohol have popped up along Turkey's southwestern coast and have grown in populararity, particularly among pious Turks, in recent years.
Sector representatives see a bright future in catering to this segment with the help of newly constructed deluxe hotels and high quality services. The five-star Alaiya Adin Beach Hotel is one such example serving this new brand of tourism -- mostly described as alternative or conservative tourism. Let's Talk Business met with Alaiya's manager Selim Soylu to discuss “Turkey's new tourism reality” and its future in their newly opened hotel in Alanya.
Soylu shares his experiences in the swift transformation in the tourism business in which he has served for many years. As regards conservative tourism, which is appealing to more people with every passing year, Soylu says it has become the new type of tourism in Turkey and “a reality of Turkish society” although many considered it a temporary trend in its early years. He believes new hotels particularly sensitive to Turkey's shared cultural heritage and values will increase in the years to come. According to Soylu, investors in the conservative tourism business will see growth so long as they take the traditional Turkish family structure and values into consideration when developing the concept of their hotel.
According to Soylu, demands for conservative-style vacationing have been misused by some parties in the past. “The number of conservative-style tourism facilities was limited and people charged astronomical prices. … But it is changing in favor of the customer now as the number of new hotels increase and people seek their rights more than they used to.”
“We hope new facilities will increase the quality of service offered to customers. The more competition increases the more quality will increase,” he opines. Customer satisfaction must be the main concern of hoteliers rather than trying to attract as many customers as they can, he explains.
The construction of a new hotel -- the third in a series -- began in November and was completed quickly. Built on a 12,000-square-meter area with 290 rooms and a 700-bed capacity, the hotel cost 30 million euros. Soylu says new facilities similar to theirs will help increase the number of customers in alternative tourism. “What we care about is offering the best-quality service we can for our customers. We did not offer early bookings. We will open the hotel with a 30 percent occupancy rate, which is normal for the beginning of the season,” he explains. “This type of tourism appeals to Muslims from all over the world, not only those from Turkey. Our country is traditionally known for the sun and sea it offers. We are showing people here that these joys are available to practicing Muslims as well.”
According to Soylu this group of people and their tourism demands were ignored until very recently. “People's buying power increased. Pious people need quality tourism services and there is a remarkable demand we have to meet,” Soylu says, adding the majority of their customers are Turks living in Europe.
“There is remarkable demand for alternative tourism, particularly from Turks living in Europe. … I guess we attract around 500,000 Turkish tourists per year from abroad,” he notes. Soylu says foreign tourists may face difficulties in accessing and finding out about conservative hotels and that professional tourism agencies need to help overcome this gap.
Soylu states that they carry out studies to increase awareness of alternative tourism services in Turkey abroad. “We have allocated 20 percent of our budget for promotion; we follow tourism fairs and festivals abroad and we meet with Turkish people living there. The hotel manager says they are expecting to 10,000 visitors this year at their three hotels, Alaiya Resort & SPA, Alaiya Kleopatra Hotel & Apart and Alaiya Adin Beach Hotel. The facilities are open 12 months a year. According to Soylu, the most important feature that distinguishes these new hotels is the separate natural beaches for women and men. Prices begin at 65 euro per person.
Ramadan is no obstacle for summer vacationing
The holy month of Ramadan -- the Islamic month of fasting -- will fall during the summer for the next few years and many have speculated that this would lead to a slowdown in the sector. Soylu says this may not be completely true, underlining each sector has its ups and downs at certain times of the year. Speculations have their roots though; Turkey's resorts emptied out a little as locals returned home to celebrate Ramadan in the past few years. Dependant on the lunar calendar, the dates for Ramadan vary on the solar calendar, moving backward 10 days each year. Ramadan coincided with the months of August and September, when tourism reaches its pinnacle and starts declining, but will occur during peak season in the coming years. Aware of this, hotels have in recent years developed new strategies -- such as cutting prices, keeping pools and lighted beaches open until dawn and offering group prayers -- to attract customers during Ramadan as well. This year's Ramadan will be observed from Aug. 1-29. Soylu says their hotel will remain open during Ramadan.
“One advantage is that the start of the school year this year was delayed until after the Eid al-Fitr holiday that marks the end of Ramadan. It is important since many Turks schedule their vacations to coincide with school breaks and we expect visitors during this period,” he explains. He says they will concentrate more on iftar (fast-breaking meal) and sahur (fast-breaking meals) programs. “We have a 2,000-person conference room; we could host daily meals. Hotels serving iftar dinners have attracted much attention in the past few years.
Soylu says the hotel sits on a strategic point and is very accessible. “There are flights to İstanbul, Ankara and Amsterdam from the Gazipaşa airport, which was recently opened close to our hotel. The Alanya highway also provides fast access within the region,” he said.
A new title for the business
One prominent aspect that Soylu underlines is that this hotel concept needs a new name instead of conservative or alternative. “I do not think using these words will be enough to describe our business. … We need to reach a consensus on a new title to better promote this type of tourism,” he explains. Soylu says he has shared this idea with sector representatives and is looking to come up with a brand new idea.
“Calling it alternative or conservative tourism demeans and relegates the scope of services to a certain category. We are open to all groups with a unique type of hotel service,” he explains. There are 17 alternative hotels in Turkey and only three or four of them are five-star hotels. Despite the fast growth, Soylu has some reservations: “There is currently very weak communication between Turkish hoteliers. I do not think current the unions are doing well in the sector.”
Making mention of the Turkish tourism industry in general, Soylu says it is one of the few sectors that can cure Turkey's widening current account deficit (CAD). “About 90 percent of tourism revenues are spent for the improvement of the sector. … This means an added value for the country. If you add its contribution to employment and to many sub-sectors, tourism is a big value for Turkey.”
Turkey earned close to $20.81 billion in tourism revenues in 2010. Turkey received slightly more than 33 million tourists in 2010, with an average spending of $630 per person.