Last updated: 03:00 PM ET, Tue May 19 2015

Turkey Delighted with Tourism Performance

Destination & Tourism | James Ruggia | May 19, 2015

Turkey Delighted with Tourism Performance

PHOTO: Istanbul and Cappadocia are Turkey’s most powerful attractions with Americans. Above, Istanbul’s Blue Mosque. (Courtesy of Turkish Tourist Office)

In 2013 Turkish tourism ascended to some rather lofty heights as it reached the status of being the sixth most visited country in the world. The flow of visitors, 41 million in 2014, has not abated despite the fact that Turkey’s eastern borders are connected to some of the scariest pages in the newspaper. Apparently, Turkey has better stories to tell potential visitors than newspapers do about its rich history and archeology, its cuisine, its ancient spa traditions, its seashore, Istanbul and a dollar that is particularly strong right now against the Turkish Lira.

In November, when the G20 holds its annual meeting, this year in Antalya, Turkey can regale their economist guests with the insights that come with being the world’s 17th largest economy. Tourism is the third biggest earner in that $820 billion economy, generating $35 billion annually.

The growth of Turkish Airlines’ (THY) route network runs parallel to the country’s robust global economic, political and cultural influence. In mid-April THY launched daily service to San Francisco from Istanbul and that will be followed in October by daily Miami service and next April brings daily service to Atlanta. THY already flies three times daily to New York and has daily service to Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and Boston as well as service to Montreal and Toronto, with Mexico City on the horizon.

“We promote Turkey as a modern country with a spectacular culture, a great coastline and as a bridge between the East and the West and at the crossroads of three continents: Africa, Europe and Asia,” said Murat Karakus, the director of New York’s Turkish Culture and Tourism Office. “The U.S. is our ninth largest market and it sent some 800,000 visitors in 2014 and we are up 10 percent in the first quarter of 2015.”

In March, archeologists uncovered a second and much larger underground city than the one which has already made Cappadocia’s Göreme National Park a bucket list item around the world. The 5,000-year-old underground city was unearthed under the Nevsehir fortress during the construction of new buildings. The ancient city has 3.5 miles of tunnels, secret churches, tombs and corridors that go as deep as 371 feet.

There’s been a spate of hotel openings to go along with all of these superlatives. The Hilton Garden Inn Istanbul Airport, the Jumeriah Bodrum Palace Hotel, the SoHo House Istanbul, the St. Regis Istanbul, the JW Marriott Bodrum and the Mövenpick Hotel Istanbul Golden Horn have all opened this spring, while the Chapelle Cappadocia, The House Hotel will open its first phase in June and the Curio - A Collection by Hilton will open in 2017 after a careful renovation of a century-old hotel.

Swissôtel Hotels & Resorts will manage the Swissôtel KozaPark Istanbul when it opens in 2019 in the city's fast-growing Esenyurt district. In the meantime, an old Istanbul favorite, Swissôtel The Bosphorus completed the first stage of a renovation that adds 198 newly designed guestrooms and suites in the hotel’s west wing. In 2017, the first phase of the new Istanbul Airport will open with a capacity for 50 million annual passengers. When fully completed, it promises to be Europe’s largest with a capacity for 150 million passengers.

In the past American tourism in Turkey stuck to a well beaten path that basically included Istanbul, Cappadocia, and either the Aegean or Mediterranean coasts, both of which combine archeology and seaside. Turkey has been diversifying its tourism to broaden out from those foundations. In the east, for instance, a nascent ski industry is taking root and winter tourism has doubled over the last decade, increasing from 2.7 million in 2004 to 4.8 million in 2014.

Right now, there are 51 ski facilities with 9,549 beds. The Turks hope to grow and improve this infrastructure with an eye towards a bid for the Winter Olympics. Turkey has more than 435 mountains at more than 1,000 meters in height.

No destination in the world is more indebted to the cruise industry for providing access to the U.S. market than Turkey. The country, which suffered a decade long unpopularity in the U.S. based on the 1978 film, Midnight Express, gained popularity in the late 1980s primarily on the word of mouth from cruise passengers who’d called at Kusadasi for day excursions to Ephesus during Greek island cruises. “We got 1,300 calls last year in our three biggest ports: Kusadasi, Istanbul and Cesme,” said Gorkem Kursunlu Karakus the culture & tourism councilor at the Turkish Embassy in Washington. “We get 400,000 annual cruise passengers from the U.S. alone.”    

The diversity of travel in Turkey gives it a special edge. A country with more than 30 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the remains of more than 25 civilizations, more than 5,000 miles of coastline, a city as great as any in Europe in Istanbul, 1,300 thermal spas and so much more promises to thrive and grow as a lucrative destination. Turkey operates three tourist offices in the U.S. in New York, Los Angeles and in Washington, D.C. Only France, the United States, China, Spain and Italy attract more tourists than Turkey. 

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