World Bulletin / News Desk
Abolishing visa requirements with some countries has driven an exceptional rise in the number of tourists to Turkey, particularly from Arab countries such as Syria, Lebanon and Libya, recent data revealed.
According to data the Tourism Investors Association (TYD) shared with Cihan News Agency, the overall number of tourists from Arab countries to Turkey has risen by almost 50 percent in the first six months of this year over the same period of 2009, a direct result of recently improving relations with countries in the region.
Speaking about the increasing interest of Arab tourists in Turkey, TYD President Turgut Gur says people from Middle Eastern countries tend to prefer vacation hubs such as Istanbul and Antalya; however, the Black Sea region is gradually becoming more popular with these same Arab tourists.
“There has been a remarkable increase in the number of Arab tourists visiting Turkey particularly after the elimination of visa requirements with some countries in the region. One can assume that Arab tourists feel more comfortable in Turkey than in any European country or in the US due to certain cultural and religious similarities,” he suggested.
Along with the elimination of visa requirements, the government's recent interactions with Israel, due to the ongoing Gaza blockade, and the spread of Turkish soap operas among the Arab population, via satellite TV, has created a positive image for Turkey in the region.
According to Gur the existing Arab tourist potential for Turkey could certainly increase even more if Turkey knows how to “take advantage of it.” “We need to improve our relationship with Arab tourists with such incentives as employing more Arabic-speaking people in tourism facilities,” he suggested. Gur had earlier said he expects the number of Arab tourists to reach 1 million this year.
Businesses attune themselves to Arab tourists' preferences
Having seen the growing interest in and curiosity about Turkey, tour operators, hotel owners and business owners are looking to hire new employees who can speak Arabic as they want to provide better service and attract as many as Arab tourists as they can, Cuneyt Mengu, the owner of the Mercan tourism agency says. He remarked, “We see that businesses are trying to prepare themselves for this new trend in the Turkish tourism market.”
Some shops include product labels in Arabic, while restaurants are preparing menus to suit the tastes of Arab customers. In a unique example, following the recent flocking of Arab tourists to the region, the Trabzon Governor's Office earlier started a program to train people who can speak Arabic to work at tourist facilities on the city's Uzungol Plateau, famous for its scenic lake, as well as fresh fish and green scenery. Some Arab entrepreneurs are even considering buying land to build new hotels in the region, stated officials.
“Most Arab tourists that we have served in the past,” Mengu continues, “say they are happy to see people speaking Arabic in Turkey.” Noting that they are happy with the current interest from Arabs, Mengu says their company enjoyed a 15 percent increase in the number of Arab tourists in first six months over the same period of last year.
“We believe the market will see an increase in this number by the end of the year. I call on Turkish entrepreneurs to make good use of such potential,” he added.
Turkish Association of Travel Agents (TURSAB) President Basaran Ulusoy said that Turkey's potential to attract Arab tourists should be capitalized upon since “these people stay for relatively longer and spend more than average.”
“Turkey is one of the safest and most attractive vacation destinations for the Arab world. Geographical proximity is one other advantage for us,” he said. According to Ulusoy Turkish travel agents have been successful in hosting Arab tourists by using effective advertising campaigns.