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8 November 2017 / Travel

The Turkish Tourism Industry Review

Tourism in Turkey heavily contributes to the Turkish economy, generating millions of jobs and untold profit every year. As a popular global tourism destination, Turkey blends ancient with modern, offering many travel experiences and tourist spots. From destinations to hotel accommodations, flights and transport, millions of international tourists contribute to shopping, dining scenes, and day trip providers every year. Indeed, Turkey's travel sectors thrive across the country.

While the COVID-19 pandemic halted record-achieving numbers, Turkey bounced back to recoup tourism popularity and forge ahead for the future. Let's look further at Turkey's tourism industry, why the country excels, and future plans.

About Tourism in Turkey

Turkish Tourism

How Important is Tourism for Turkey?

In 2022, there were 50 million international tourists in Turkey. This generated 46 billion USD of tourism revenues, a staggering amount for an industry to achieve. Such is the success of Turkish tourism; travel contributes 7% to the annual GDP and accounts for 8.4% of Turkey's total employment, generating just over 2.5 million jobs.

In both 2021 and 2022, after the (COVID-19) pandemic, Turkey was the fourth most visited country for annual tourists after France, Spain and the United States, with average tourist expenditure per capita being 905 USD.  As well as attracting tourists from Western Europe and Eastern Europe, Turkey's fame extends far to the Middle East, Asia, and America, ensuring economic growth for Turkish travel businesses. (Stats from Ministry of Culture and Tourism)

Nationalities of Top International Visitors

  • Germany 5.679.194 tourists
  • Russia 5.232.611 tourists
  • UK 3.370.739 tourists
  • Bulgaria 2.882.512 tourists
  • Iran 2.331.076 tourists

Travel Turkey

Domestic Tourism in Turkey

Put aside foreign tourists because domestic travel plays a significant role. Turkish citizens also like to explore popular tourist destinations and lesser-talked-about areas. Several factors contribute to the popularity of the domestic Turkish tourism industry.

Firstly, Turkey's extensive coastline along the Mediterranean, Aegean, and Black Seas offers various beach destinations, including Antalya, Bodrum, and Alanya. Each Turkish region has unique culinary traditions, and domestic tourists often embark on gastronomic journeys to savour local dishes and specialities.  

Secondly, the Lycian Way, Mount Ararat, and other scenic trails attract adventure enthusiasts. Turkish citizens love the great outdoor activities, including trekking, hiking, and exploring natural wonders.  Turkey's rich Islamic heritage also makes the country ideal for religious travel. Pilgrims visit significant sites like the Blue Mosque, the Mevlana Museum in Konya, and the Virgin Mary's House.

Turkey offers many budget-friendly travel options for Turks, making domestic travel accessible to broad demographics. Affordable transportation, accommodations, and dining have increased in popularity, and a common factor in many destinations, is the family friendly atmosphere, which Turkish society revolves round. This family-oriented approach encourages domestic travel, especially during school holidays.

Lastly, Turkey's well-developed road network makes travelling and exploring different regions convenient for locals. Affordable domestic flights connect major cities, enabling quick and efficient travel, and this isn’t confined to summer either, because Turks engage in winter holidays, especially in areas like Uludağ and Palandoken, where they can enjoy skiing and other winter sports.  Indeed, the Turkish travel industry isn’t confined to streams of tourists from abroad but also from within the country.

Top Airports in Turkey

Turkey's strategic location, bridging Europe and Asia, excels in global air travel. Boasting modern facilities, efficient services, and well-connected runways, the country's airports are gateways for foreign tourists to its diverse attractions. Among the top Turkish airports, Istanbul New Airport, Antalya, Dalaman, and Bodrum stand out for receiving the influx of foreign tourists every year.

Istanbul: Istanbul International Airport testifies to Turkey's global ambition as the tourism capital. Opened in 2018, it is Turkey's busiest airport and a key transit hub. Sitting in European Istanbul, Turkey's largest airport is pivotal in positioning Turkey as a central hub for air travel and tourism markets. The airport's expansive duty-free shopping, diverse dining options, and efficient transit services provide seamless travel experiences.

Antalya: Antalya Airport on Turkey's Mediterranean coast gives access to popular seaside resorts and historical sites, making this region an essential destination for tourism markets. With close proximity to destinations like Antalya, Belek, and Kemer, the air travel hub plays a vital role for tourists seeking sun-soaked beaches, ancient ruins, and vibrant nightlife. The airport's ability to handle seasonal fluctuations reflects its strong link to Turkey's tourism infrastructure.

Dalaman: Also on Turkey's southwestern coast, Dalaman Airport opens up to the stunning Turquoise Coast. This region, with pristine beaches, azure waters, and historical sites, attracts travellers seeking relaxation and adventure. Dalaman Airport's proximity to resorts like Marmaris, Fethiye, and Oludeniz makes the air travel hub vital for tourists. The airport's location amidst the natural beauty of the Aegean and Mediterranean regions enhances overall travel experiences and holidays in one of Turkey's most scenic areas.

Bodrum: Bodrum Milas Airport, on the Bodrum Peninsula along the Aegean coast, is an entry point for travellers seeking the charm of this resort destination. The Bodrum Peninsula, with lively nightlife scenes, historical sites, and stunning beaches, is easily accessible via airport shuttles, making this area ideal for exploring Turkey's Aegean region. The airport's role in supporting the vibrant tourism industries of the Bodrum Peninsula, as well as resorts like Kusadasi and Altinkum is pivotal.

Beach Destinations Galore

Blessed with stunning Aegean and Mediterranean coastline, Turkey is synonymous with beach holidays. The country's idyllic beaches, crystal-clear waters, and beach towns make the country a premier destination for relaxation and exploration on white sand beaches, as seen in numerous travel brochures promoting the sun, sea and sand lifestyle. Additionally, certain beach resorts stand out as top destinations.

Bodrum: Bodrum gets credit for luxury facilities among Aegean natural delights. Beach resorts within the peninsula, boast numerous sandy beaches, each with unique charm. Whether it's popular Bodrum with lively atmospheres, family-friendly Camel Beach, or serene Bitez Beach, visitors are spoiled for choice. Clear turquoise waters invite leisurely swims, while gentle sea breezes provide perfect relaxation backdrops.

Antalya: Antalya, often called the "Pearl of the Mediterranean," also gives way to the Turquoise Coast. The azure Mediterranean Sea frames the region with pristine beaches, ranging from fine pebbles to soft sands. Konyaalti and Lara Beaches are popular choices, offering blended relaxation and water activities.

Oludeniz: on the southwest coast, Oludeniz features the postcard-perfect Blue Lagoon. This pristine stretch of coast, surrounded by lush greenery and backed by the Babadag Mountains, offers an unparalleled setting. Calm, shallow waters of the lagoon create serene environments, perfect for swimming, snorkelling, or simply basking in the sun. Nature enthusiasts can also embark on scenic boat trips to Butterfly Valley, accessible only by sea.

Cesme and Alacati: On the Aegean coast, Cesme celebrates sandy beaches and therapeutic thermal springs. Ilica and Altinkum Beaches are popular choices, offering sun-soaked relaxation and opportunities to experience the healing properties of thermal waters. The Alacati region, known for white windmills and cobblestone streets, adds charm to coastal experiences. Consistent wind patterns and shallow waters of Alacati Bay create ideal conditions for windsurfers of all levels.

Beach Holidays Turkey

Top Visited Destinations in Turkey

Vibrant Istanbul: As a travel destination, Istanbul, the largest city and tourism capital, is Turkey's cultural and historical heart. Adjacent to the Hagia Sophia, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also called the Blue Mosque, showcases Ottoman architectural splendour. Although it is famed for having the biggest shopping centres, the Grand Bazaar is ideal for Istanbul's bustling energy.

However, Cevahir is the largest shopping centre if you want modern shopping malls. Topkapi Palace, perched on the historic peninsula overlooking the Golden Horn, housed Ottoman sultans for centuries, while Bosphorus cruises glide between Europe and Asia for passengers to witness the blended modernity and tradition that defines Istanbul.

Beautiful Cappadocia: Cappadocia, a region in central Turkey, is known for i surreal landscapes, fairy chimneys and cave dwellings. Goreme Open-Air Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage site, features cave churches adorned with ancient frescoes. A hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia is a bucket-list experience. Cappadocia's underground cities, like Derinkuyu and Kaymakli, were carved into soft volcanic rock by early Christians as hiding places during times of persecution. Pasabag, also known as Monks Valley, was sculpted by centuries of erosion to create surreal landscapes.

Ancient Ephesus: The ruins of Ephesus, an ancient Greek city on the Aegean coast, transport visitors back to the Greco-Roman eras. With its ornate facade and statues, the Library of Celsus testifies to architectural grandeur and intellectual legacy. At the same time, the Great Theatre of Ephesus once hosted performances and events for thousands of spectators. Today, visitors ascend the tiers and imagine grand spectacles that unfold on this historic stage.

Stunning Pamukkale: Pamukkale, meaning "cotton castle" in Turkish, is a terrace formed by mineral-rich thermal waters cascading down hillsides. The terraces, resembling white cotton, are a UNESCO World Heritage site famous for relaxation and beauty. Atop Pamukkale's terraces lies ancient Hierapolis. This Greco-Roman city boasts well-preserved ruins, including a necropolis, theatre, and agora. Visitors explore archaeological ruins while enjoying panoramic views of surrounding terraces.

Antalya Region: Antalya, an attractive Mediterranean city centre, seamlessly blends historical charm with modern comforts. The Old Town, called Kaleici, features narrow cobblestone streets lined with Ottoman-era houses, boutique hotels, and vibrant cafes, and the historic harbour adds maritime touches. Hadrian's Gate, an ancient triumphal arch, is a tribute to Emperor Hadrian's 2nd-century visit. Another must-see site, ancient Perge, just outside Antalya, includes an impressive theatre and stadium, and walking through colonnaded streets and exploring excavations provides glimpses into the city's former grandeur.

Fethiye Region: Mediterranean Fethiye, nestled along the Turquoise Coast, earns fame for the Blue Lagoon, with calm, turquoise waters. The region separates into the districts of Oludeniz, Hisaronu, Ovacik, Calis beach and Fethiye town centre, all popular holiday destinations.

Different Niches of Turkish Tourism

In Turkey, history echoes in ancient ruins, nature reveals breathtaking landscapes and diverse cultures converge. Beyond the conventional sun-and-sand vacations, Turkey caters to many niches, attracting international visitors, which is a significant reason for the success of its travel industry. By diversifying the industry, they capture the attention of all demographics based on their interests, needs and wants.

Medical Tourism: Istanbul's modern healthcare facilities have emerged in the global medical tourism industry, earning reputations for excellence. Internationally accredited hospitals and skilled medical professionals offer procedures from cosmetic surgery to dental procedures and, the most popular, hair transplants. Istanbul's strategic position as a global transportation hub further contributes to its popularity among health-conscious travellers.

Culture and History: Istanbul, a city that spans two continents and multiple epochs, attracts many historical enthusiasts. The Hagia Sophia, with Byzantine and Ottoman traces, stands as an architectural marvel. At the same time, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, and Grand Bazaar collectively narrate tales of empires and civilisations that shaped Istanbul's identity. The culture also differs from east to west presenting various faces of the country.

Spa Tourism: Afyonkarahisar, often called Afyon, boasts thermal springs and wellness resorts. The region's thermal waters are believed to have therapeutic properties, making it an ideal retreat for rejuvenation. Bodrum, synonymous with luxury beach resorts, also boasts world-class spa facilities. Many upscale resorts along the Bodrum Peninsula offer wellness programs, holistic treatments, and thalassotherapy, allowing visitors to unwind against the backdrop of the Aegean Sea.

Golfing Tourism: Belek, situated on the Mediterranean coast, has earned a reputation as Turkey's premier golf destination. The region is dotted with championship golf courses designed by renowned architects. Golf enthusiasts can tee off against scenic backdrops of pine forests and the Mediterranean, enjoying fused sport and landscape beauty. Combined top-notch facilities, well-manicured fairways, and coastal views make Antalya a sought-after destination for golf tourism, and the Turkish city's climate allows for year-round golfing, adding to the appeal.

Halal Tourism: Halal tourism refers to a travel industry segment that caters to Muslim travellers by providing services and facilities compliant with Islamic principles. This includes accommodations, dining options, and recreational activities that adhere to halal dietary laws and Islamic values. Halal tourism aims to create culturally sensitive environments for Muslim tourists, offering spaces where they can comfortably practice their faith while enjoying leisure and travel experiences. This may involve features like prayer facilities, halal-certified food, and gender-segregated amenities, ensuring that destinations and services align with Islamic requirements enhancing overall travel experiences for Muslim visitors. Turkey definitely excels in this aspect and attracts many Middle-eastern tourists because of it.

Nature Travel: Turkey boasts many natural landscapes that make the country attractive for nature tourism. One prominent region is Cappadocia, with unique rock formations, fairy chimneys, and hot air balloon rides offering breathtaking views. Diverse landscapes of the Eastern Anatolia region, including Mount Ararat and Lake Van, provide opportunities for outdoor activities and exploration. Additionally, the lush greenery of the Black Sea region, travertine terraces of Pamukkale, and the pristine wilderness of the Taurus Mountains add to the country's appeal for nature enthusiasts.

Norheast Turkey

UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Turkey

Turkey currently has 19 UNESCO World Heritage sites that contribute heavily to the leisure travel sector. Places like the Blue Mosque and 6th century Hagia Sophia make up the old city part of Istanbul. Still, there are many more UNESCO Sites from the west to Eastern Turkey. Places like Goreme National Park, in historical Cappadocia, boast otherworldly landscapes and ancient cave dwellings. The region's distinctive fairy chimneys, rock-cut churches, and underground cities form unique testaments to the adaptability of human settlements over centuries.

Troy's archaeological site, immortalised in Homer's epics, is where layers of history reveal the ancient city's evolution over the centuries. Archaeological Aphrodisias, recognised by UNESCO in Aegean Turkey, preserves the city's cultural and artistic legacy. Indeed, Turkey brims with UNESCO sites for those who want to delve into past stories of entwined culture and history.

Summary - Why is Turkey Famous for Tourism?

Turkey is famous for tourism because of combined factors, including ancient ruins, historic cities, blended cultures, natural landscapes of beauty, and gorgeous beaches. Additionally, Turkish cuisine earns fame for its variety and flavours, and the hospitality of Turkish people is well-known. Turkey also invested in modern infrastructure to accommodate growing numbers of tourists. There are well-developed hotels, resorts, and transportation networks. Add to this adventure travel, shopping opportunities, and strategic location, which explains why people love to come to Turkey. 

What is Turkey's Sustainable Tourism Program?

Turkey wants to make the country one of the world's most sustainable tourism destinations and minimise the impacts of tourism. Verification or certificate is given to accommodation facilities, tour operators, and destinations that meet high international sustainability standards and have minimal implications for travelling tourists.

The program, launched in 2022, aims to maximise benefits for local communities, preserve cultural heritage, protect biodiversity and landscapes, reduce pollution, and conserve resources. It encourages continuous improvement in sustainability efforts and focuses on accommodation facilities in sustainable tourism destinations.  These facilities undergo independent audits and verifications each year.

Challenges and Opportunities: Navigating the Path Ahead

While Turkey's tourism industry flourishes, it faces challenges that require careful navigation. Political and economic uncertainties can impact visitor numbers. However, Turkey displayed resilience and adaptability, implementing strategies to mitigate risks and maintain its status as a premier travel destination. Emerging niche markets, like cultural and culinary travel, eco-adventures, and health and wellness retreats, present avenues for growth. By leveraging unique assets and addressing evolving traveller preferences, Turkey can further enhance its position for global travel.

Also About Turkey

Unmissable Things to Do: With a bountiful array of things to do in Turkey, everyone enjoys this diverse nation. As an unforgettable destination with summer sun to explore underground cities, UNESCO World Heritage sites, and natural beauty, a fantastic trip is guaranteed. Turkey has everything from Mediterranean coast delights and panoramic views to bustling towns and historical monuments.

Major Cities to Visit in Turkey: For avid travellers, over 500 cities in Turkey present an excellent insight into the country. Turkish cities offer diverse social opportunities from arts and culture, culinary adventures, shopping bonanzas and an exciting collection of nostalgic architecture. Some are also home to historical sites and have beautiful stories of bygone eras. But when looking at tourism in Turkey, which are the top recommended cities to visit and why?

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