ECONOMY

Turkey tourism seen steady

ANKARA (Reuters) – The number of foreign tourists visiting Turkey is expected to remain largely unchanged in 2007 as opposed to this difficult year, the head of the Turkish Tourism Investors Association (TYD) Oktay Varlier said yesterday. Turkey’s key tourism sector was badly damaged this year by a bombing campaign by Kurdish separatists, a crisis over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, which sparked riots across the Muslim world, and an outbreak of bird flu in the southeast. «It looks that we will not be able to exceed 21 million tourists (visiting) this year… Next year, we can at most attain this year’s numbers if we do not embark on a very aggressive image campaign,» Varlier told Reuters. He said the TYD, which represents most big hotels and holiday resorts as well as many tour operators, expected tourism numbers and revenues to fall 5-6 percent in 2006 versus 2005. Turkey’s government has said it hopes for $20 billion in revenues from the tourism sector this year. Data for the third quarter released last month showed that revenues fell 8.9 percent in the peak tourism months of July through Sept from last year. Varlier said it was too early to give details for next year, but said the first signals did not hint at a rise. «Information we obtained from a London tourism fair shows that British reservations for next year are not higher than 2006,» he said. Europe’s second-largest tourism firm Thomas Cook said last month it saw stagnation in the German tourism market next summer. Germans are the biggest foreign tourist group visiting Turkey each year. Poor image Varlier said rival Spain and Greece benefited from Turkey’s woes and urged the government to launch an image campaign. »The tendency to see Turkey as a Middle Eastern Islamic country (rather than a European country) has become too great. We need to show that Turkey has another face,» he said. The image of Turkey as a backward conservative country on the border of a turbulent Middle East region has scared off many European tourists. The Tourism Ministry’s $70 million budget for image campaigns was not enough, he said. «The Tourism Ministry with its existing structure and budget cannot be successful (with an image campaign),» he said. An independent body which includes representatives of the tourism sector could, on the other hand, put together a successful image campaign, he said. A surplus of hotels on the country’s Mediterranean coast was creating tough competition and was responsible for depressing prices to unreasonable levels, he said. «In Antalya, 130,000 new rooms have been put into service. A room is now going for -9-10 in four- and five-star hotels. This is very wrong and the tourism sector cannot survive at such prices,» he said.