Leading tourism unions, however, dismiss discussions that the sector could lag behind the successful performance it saw in 2011, downplaying a potential recovery in rival tourism destinations.
Turkey received 6.35 percent fewer tourists in January-March of this year compared to the first three months of 2011. The country’s tourism income dropped by 9.7 percent compared to the same period of the previous year. The amount of money tourists spent when in Turkey also decreased by 36.6 percent in the same period. Tourism revenue is highly important for Turkey since its economy produces a large current account deficit (CAD) because of its heavy dependence on foreign energy and intermediate goods. Having recently managed to develop and diversify its tourism sector, Turkey maneuvered fast to exploit the gap -- to attract potential visitors -- countries experiencing political and economic troubles left in the market last year. Such major tourism rivals for Turkey in its region -- Spain, Greece and Egypt -- were all suffering from separate problems.
The country saw a record number of visitors -- over 30 million -- while it earned more than $20 billion in 2011. The number of visitors to Turkey climbed 9 percent in 2011 compared to the previous year to reach 30 million, according to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). Unofficial data put this number as high as 36 million. Another factor to fuel Turkey’s tourism success, as many argue, is that the country is riding the crest of increased popularity in the Arab world. It is critical to note that last year’s record was achieved while many Arab tourists’ travel reservations in 2011 were canceled because of the popular “Arab Spring.”
But will the country be able to maintain this historic success this year too, while rivals are working hard for a strong comeback? Discussions around this question are accompanied by concerns of market share loss due to “recovering rivals.” According to some tourism market representatives, the country’s major rivals are now raising their heads, and Turkey could eventually lose some of its market share. Cornelia De Luxe Resort Hotel General Manager Hakan Duran is one of them. He told a conference in Antalya last week that Turkey had Spain alone as a major rival in its surrounding markets. “But this year we see Greece, Egypt and some other North African countries restructuring to emerge as formidable rivals as they once were,” he noted. Governments in these countries now cling to the tourism sector for support, trying hard for as successful a comeback on the stage as possible, Duran argued. In 2011, Egypt’s tourism revenues plummeted 29 percent due to domestic violence. But the country witnessed a strong comeback of visitors in the first quarter of this year. A similar picture can be valid for Greece. Safety concerns, however, still have fewer people choosing to book vacations to both countries, observers argue.
Sunday’s Zaman discussed the issue with managers of three of Turkey’s leading tourism unions to see how they comprehend the current picture. They note that it is too early to say if Turkey will suffer a contraction in tourism this year over 2011, adding that there can be ups and downs in the markets in certain periods. Leading players do not believe that Turkey could easily be defeated by rivals as in the past. They argue the country has gained a strong foothold in global tourism markets and cite a relatively better service industry as the major pillar of this achievement.
Of the two leading countries that traditionally sent the highest number of visitors to Turkey, Germany sent 3 percent fewer tourists to Turkey in January-March over the same quarter of 2011, while Russia followed with an 8 percent contraction in the same period. Tourism Investors Association (TYD) President Turgut Gür attributed the slowdown in the tourism sector in the first quarter to political and economic crises in the countries in question, adding, however, that this is “a temporary situation.” “We will recover particularly in the months of July and August. We may not exceed the level of success we had back in 2011, but for sure we will not lag behind it,” he noted. Touristic Hotels and Investors Association (TUROB) President Timur Bayındır told Sunday’s Zaman he does not think Turkey’s major tourism rivals are in a very comfortable position. Nor is the situation in Turkish tourism markets as bad as pictured. He said, “We just started 2012, and we will surely experience a recovery beginning in April.” Bayındır said Turkey’s rivals have already offered low prices, and they did whatever they could to attract as many tourists as possible. But this does not mean Turkey is losing its market share, he added. He says TUROB expects a 5 percent increase in the number of tourists this year over 2011. İstanbul is expected to have 15,000 additional beds this year. Sector representatives should not lose hope but concentrate on attracting as many tourists as possible with the best service they can offer.
According to Turkish Association of Travel Agents (TÜRSAB) President Başaran Ulusoy, Turkey has a diversified tourism market, and sector players are good at managing their businesses well. “We may have experienced a decline in the number of visitors and revenue in the first quarter, but we will compensate for this during the summer as other Middle East markets compensate for this loss. We expect a 4 percent increase in the number of tourists this year over 2011,” he concluded. Observers point to increased public and private investments to improve Turkey’s traditional coastal as well as alternative tourism areas like culture, sports and healthcare in recent years. Turkish Hoteliers’ Federation (TÜROFED) President Osman Ayık last week said he has faith the tourism sector will compensate for the loss in the first quarter between May and October, the peak season in Turkey.