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News Article

Cultural tourism booms in Turkey

In what could be a record year for Turkish tourism, heritage tourism is booming.

Turkish tourism is gearing up for what many expect will be a record-breaking season in 2005. And part of that boom in tourism is taking place in cities renowned for their historic heritage.

Turkey's Culture and Tourism Ministry is claiming that over 8.5 million tourists visited in the first six months of 2005. The figures for the first quarter of the year, some 2.5 million, represented a 30% increase from the same period last year.

According to the State Institute of Statistics, the number of tourists entering Turkey has been steadily increasing for the last two decades. Visitor numbers of over 17.5 million in 2004 were an increase of about 25.7% compared with 2003, and surpassed the World Tourism Organisation's projections for 2010.

A breakdown of visitor numbers shows that 75% of tourists are from OECD countries, and 27.6% from Eastern Europe. Turkey's unique position in straddling Europe and Asia means that it attracts a wide range of visitors. Popular Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot recently named Turkey as 2005's hottest holiday destination in the Mediterranean, for "its matchless beaches, accommodation and high standards." Over 450,000 Iranian tourists travel to Turkey annually, while the top 2 source countries are Germany and Russia.

Much of Turkish tourism, particularly from countries in Western and Northern Europe, has been in the "sea-sun-beach" sector. Narli (2002) describes how many holiday resorts were built along the coast in the 1950's, and the concentration of government support for tourism on international tourism and the major tour-operators package holidays.

Narli also describes the promotion of alternative forms of tourism, enhancing the Turkish natural and cultural heritage, and a report on on 2 August says that Turkish tourism is now reaping the benefits of advertising its historical and cultural heritage. In the ancient Silk Road city of Mardin, for example, numbers of tourists have grown ten-fold in four years to reach 400,000.

"It is very gratifying that faith and cultural tourism have gained popularity. If the deficiencies in the hosting and other facilities are corrected, faith and cultural tourism can generate as much revenue as coastal tourism," say tourism sector officials.

With Christian monasteries and Islamic mosques and madrasahs, Turkey again benefits from it's geographical location and mixed cultural heritage. The Sumela Monastery in Trabzon is a major pilgrimage destination for Christians, whereas the cave where Prophet Abraham was born, Mevlid-i Halil Mosque, Prophet Eyyup’s Cave and Harran are major tourist attractions in Sanliurfa.

Dedeoglu (2002) reported that the long-term tourism promotion strategy of Turkey was to brand it as a unique destination and reposition the image of Turkey as a quality destination. Government can play a major role in shaping the way in which Turkish tourism develops, as Yarcan and Ertuna (2002) describe how the tourism investment incentives provided by the government (which shapes the tourism supply) determine the nature of the inbound international tourism demand.

According to, hotels in historic cities such as Mardin and Sanliurfa are full, and new hotels are opening or under development. Businessmen are opening "boutique hotels", from restored historic mansions and caravansaries to meet the tourist demand.

The danger of such a tourist boom is that visitor demand and numbers can destroy the cultural heritage, both architectural and in local lifestyle, that the tourists come to see. Reusing traditional buildings as heritage hotels is expensive, but if restoration is done sensitively it can help preserve the architectural character of the region. Dincer and Ertugral (2003) suggest that protecting old old buildings by having them acquire new functions including accommodation with authentic characteristics helps save the historical buildings and benefits the local economy, with such accommodation attracting higher income and more educated tourist groups.

Tosum et al. (2003) suggest that tourism has contributed little to national development in Turkey, and that spatial concentrations of mass tourism investment induced by tourism incentive policies in relatively developed coastal regions have increased disparities among regions and classes. Maybe the growth of heritage tourism in the historic interior of Turkey can help redress this disparity.


Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism

Article details

  • Author(s)
  • David Simpson
  • Date
  • 03 August 2005
  • Subject(s)
  • Tourism