Istanbul – Long described as a “bridge between civilisation” by locals and travellers alike, Turkey has now developed into the sixth most popular tourist destination worldwide, attracting 34.91 million tourists in 2013 alone.
Giant infrastructure projects including a plan to built the world’s largest airport in Istanbul and extensive urban renewal and restoration plans are expected to further boost the rapidly growing tourism sector, with the exciting push partly driven by profile risers such as Istanbul being named in 2010 as European Capital of Culture.
The European Union continues to be the main source of foreign visitors to Turkey, with Germany and the United Kingdom providing for respectively 5 million and 2.4 million tourist arrivals in 2012. Outside the E.U., Russia provided for 3.5 million arrivals in 2012, Iran 1.1 million, the United States 0.8 million and Syria also 0.8 million.
In terms of total contribution to the domestic economy, the importance of tourism has historically fluctuated somewhat due to the instability of the local currency. However, at 10.7% of GDP it was considerably higher in 2013 than what it was in 1990, when it stood at 7.9% and more than twice the size of automotive manufacturing’s and banking GDPs impacts that stood at 4.8% and 5.3% respectively.
The total contribution to employment (including wider effects from investments and the supply chain) of the travel and tourism industry is also considerable with 2 million jobs provided for in 2012 – and it is also interesting to note that, over 1990-2010, total employment in this sector grew by 219%, whereas tourist arrivals grew by 404% meaning that productivity per employee almost doubled.
Tourism revenue increased 22.8% in the second quarter of 2013 over the same period in 2012 with leisure travel spending generating 82% of revenues compared with 18% for business travel spending. The country’s investments in tourism (as a % share of total investments) stood at 13.5% in 2012 up from 8.6% in 2011 with capital investments in tourism and government related expenditure mainly directed towards transportation infrastructure, tourism equipment and technological innovations.
The number of beds in hotels and similar establishments also reflects the level of a country’s investment in tourism and Turkey recorded approximately 600,000 beds in 2012, which was the highest number in the Southern Mediterranean region.
These growth trends are clearly impressive and exceeding those of all other sectors analysed by Market Monitor within the Turkish economy. One area in which Turkey has lagged though is in the average spending of tourists, which has fallen relatively steadily in the past decade. According to the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, the average tourist in Turkey in 2012 in fact spent only $798, while the average spending in other top tourist destinations worldwide was of $1,100.
In tourism, like in other sectors of the Turkish economy, all eyes are on 2023, the year in which the republic will celebrate its 100th anniversary. The government is hoping to host 50 million guests by 2023, is looking to increase annual revenues to $50 billion and has established a spending goal of $1,000 per tourist. However, like elsewhere in the world, the Turkish government faces the challenge of promoting tourism without damaging the social fabric underpinning local communities and the environment. Sustainability is the watchword of the future, and the country will need to adapt if it is to keep the current trend growing strong.