How Turkish resorts are trying to recover after upheaval
Tourism has collapsed in Turkey due to political upheaval over the past year. As the laptop ban gets underway, Emma Thomson visits Fethiye to take the pulse of a nation that's fighting back. The Independent presents results of her analysis in How Turkish resorts are trying to recover after a year of terrorism, coups and travel restrictions
Turkey is having its moment in the spotlight this month, but for all the wrong reasons. President Erdogan has placed his relations with the EU 'under review' as a result of Germany and the Netherlands refusing to allow referendum rallies in their countries. And from this week, laptops and tablets will be banned from cabin baggage on all direct flights from Turkey to the UK. Needless to say, things are stressful for Turkish residents in the tourism sector. “Fethiye hasn't been this shaken since the 1957 earthquake,” says tour guide Tolga Kanik, as we stroll along the promenade beside the Aegean Sea. “By this time of year I'm normally fully booked, but so far I only have four confirmed tours.”
Once a summer staple destination on the Turkish Riviera, known for its vibrant nightlife, tavernas with views of the surrounding pine tree-clad mountains, and sandy azure bays where the white masts of a thousand sailing boats spear the sunny sky, this seaside resort – like the rest of Turkey – has been shaken to the core by an unprecedented drop in tourism.
Just two years ago, Turkey was the sixth most-visited country in the world attracting close to 42 million foreign visitors. In 2016, the figure plummeted to 25 million. An attempted military coup last July and a series of terrorist attacks have tarnished the country's reputation.
But this shouldn't be the case, say locals. Outside hotspots such as Istanbul and Ankara, the majority of the country is marked green – or safe to visit – on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office map. “Local businesses and tourism professionals are being penalised unfairly,” says Kanik.
Fethiye acts a microcosm for other tourist destinations in Turkey, making it a good place to check the country's pulse. “We can survive two bad years – a third would be impossible,” Mehmet Güven, who owns the Yakamoz Hotel, tells The Independent. “The trouble is we're not advertising, so tourists see only the bad news. There's nothing to balance it; nothing to show reality.”
Levent Ersoy, owner of SunMarine Yachting and Tours, tells a similar story: “The truth is we're located over a thousand miles from the trouble areas, but bookings dropped thirty percent last year and a further thirty-five percent this year,” he says. “Instead of organising gulet boat tours, I've had to diversify by sending Turkish travellers abroad.”
Later, I ask Mete Atay, Deputy Mayor of Tourism Affairs for Fethiye region, how they're tackling the downturn. “We'll be spending half a million lira on advertising this year and hosting more festivals. We hope our new marketing campaign 'New Trend Fethiye' will revitalise interest.” Is he optimistic about the future? “It's hard to estimate how quickly things will recover. "If nothing happens over the next few months, then I'm hopeful, but really we need every tourist to be an ambassador now. The fact that we're more diverse than any other region hasn't changed – we have so much nature, sports and culture in a small area.”
Indeed, travellers savvy enough to ignore this perceived blanket ban will also be rewarded with accommodation that caters to every budget and offers quality for your quid. “Tourists need to root issues of safety in reality, take the initiative, and end this crisis of confidence in Turkey,” says Kanik. “For the most part, it's still the same scenic, affordable, family-friendly destination it always was.” Perhaps 2017 is the time to return.