Turkey: Rich With History

After just one visit to Turkey, an agent will have a wealth of good information to share with intrigued travelers. Yet before teaching potential Turkey clients what the country has to offer, perhaps the first thing a client should know is what Turkey is not.  Tourists flock to Istanbul to shop for treasures at the Grand Bazaar

Before you pique your clients' interest in the Eastern Mediterranean country, assure them that this isn't the dangerous destination that many misinformed travelers think it is. Soon after Travel Agent visited Turkey on part of a two-week tour hosted by tour operator FLO USA, thoughts of a radically Muslim country prone to terrorism threats were quickly replaced with the memories of some of the most historical and spiritual sites in the world and some of the hospitable people living near them.

"I feel there is an unjust fear of terrorism in Turkey that has been blown out of proportion," says Shimson Erenfield, co-owner of Bler Travel Inc. in Brookline, MA and just one of nearly 20 agents who FLO USA accompanied to Turkey. "There are tons of destinations around the world that are much riskier than this."

In fact, there are beliefs of Turkey that aren't just exaggerated, they are simply false. For instance, Turkey, a country with 77 million people (15 million in Istanbul alone) is not in the Middle East as some people might believe; rather, it is located on two continents, Europe and Asia. The European portion of Turkey is called Thrace, while the Asian part is called Anatolia or Asia Minor. Also start painting a beautiful picture of Turkey for clients with a clean canvas by erasing other false images they might have, such as of women being only allowed to walk in public wearing black gowns with only their eyes exposed. Women dress no different than American women, and the country—mainly the major historical and socially robust city of Istanbul—is arguably as European in style and culture as most countries on the continent.

"Turkey hasn't gotten its fair share as far as its reputation goes," Erenfield says. "Perhaps it's been bad [public relations], but this country really is nothing like the Turkey most people think it is. Once you get people to go to a place and have them realize it's a pleasant surprise, then you can get others to go because of word of mouth."

Tourists flock to Ephesus to visit the home of the Virgin Mary

Must-See Cities

Cengiz Aras, president of FLO USA, says a perfect trip to Turkey takes about 14 or 15 days. First and foremost, a drive from Kusadasi to Pamukkale is highly recommended, with a stop in Ephesus along the way. (Though the vastly popular Cappadocia was not visited during our stay, it's hard to imagine any location in Turkey that encompasses a full serving of history, religion and landscapes more than Ephesus).

You need not be Catholic or even religious to experience a sense of cleansing when you visit the home of the Virgin Mary in Ephesus. It is a simple hut; you'll enter a small room where candles are lit and an altar is set up with a statue of Mary waiting for the next visitor to kneel down and pray.

The city of Troy is also recommended, although you will need to bring your imagination, as most of the ruins are virtually nonexistent. Enough remains, though, to help picture the lives that existed thousands of years ago with the help of tour guides, such as chief guide Ye Sim Güris or another FLO-USA guide, Gökhan Alatas. Both guides are highly recommended. To arrange tours, write to info@flo-usa.com for Güris and gokhanalatas@yahoo.co.uk for Alatas.

Beauty and History

If you need more visuals, Ephesus is the place to be. Large portions of the amphitheaters, Library of Celcius and the Temple of Hadrian all remain intact. To think you are walking on The Marble Road and touching walls and columns that were touched by people thousands of years ago is a feeling that can never be replaced or fully described until you have done it.

Swords, jewels, and other artifacts are displayed at the Topkapi Palace

"Be prepared for the diverse beauty of the country," says Rohna McKenna of LT Travel in Brewster, NY. "In order to appreciate the country, you really need to go on a tour. The roads are extremely well-marked, [but] you need a tour guide to enable you to immerse yourself in the history of the country."

Istanbul had the most opportunity for small shopping, with the Grand Bazaar housing hundreds of vendors selling everything from arts and crafts to jewels.

Istikal Street
in Beyoglu was perhaps the best opportunity for nightlife in the area. It was home to countless bars and shops. You would never think you were in Turkey if you looked at all the people on the streets, in the bars and on the sidewalks; it felt like London or some other busy metropolitan area.

Attractions in Turkey include the statues at the Hippodrome

The city also offers its share of history as well, as it is home to the famous Blue Mosque—a name given by tourists to the landmark well known for its six minarets and beautiful blue tiles. From just a few feet away from the mosque, it did not look real. Not until your clients walk through the front door, will they realize they aren't walking into a painting. The same can be said for the Byzantine Basilica, built in the sixth century; it's dark and its floors are mostly covered in water with many candles lit to show people the way. The orange light on the water is almost meditating.

Planning a Stay

For archeological sites, comfortable shoes and a cap are recommended. For mosques and churches, shorts are forbidden. Also, shoes need to be removed, so wear socks. Women are required to wear headscarves and long-sleeved shirts while visiting mosques, although this wasn't enforced during our visit.

Attractions in Turkey include the Blue Mosque

Be a smart traveler: Turkey, like any foreign destination, does have the potential for tourist-related crime, including pick-pocketing and con jobs, but all of those crimes can be avoided. Advise your clients to take the same precautions as they would anywhere: never travel alone, carry only small bills, and be very careful with whom you get friendly.

FLO-USA did an excellent job showing Travel Agent the full offering of hotels in Turkey, a mix of three-, four-, and five-star hotels. Even the properties with small rooms were great because of the location, which is why the Pera Marmara Hotel (+90 212 251 4646) near

Istikal street
is highly recommended. The rooms are small, but the views of the country are gorgeous. (All rooms on the seventh floor are recommended; the higher you are, the better the view.) Best rooms as far as the size are at The Marmara Antalya (+90 242-249-3600) in Antalya. Though many bathrooms in Turkey, especially the showers, were incredibly smaller than they are in the U.S., this was not the case at Marmara Antalya, a five-star property. Visit www.themarmarahotels.com for more information.

Both hotels offer 10-percent commission. Call FLO USA representatives for further booking information.

Qualifying a Turkey Client

Here are some questions agent Karl Tibbetts of American Passenger Travel, based in San Antonio, TX, recommends all agents looking to sell Turkey ask their clients before deciding whether Turkey is the right fit for them: Do you mind buses? Do you mind a full, hard day? Can you do a lot of walking?

"Basically, you're talking middle-aged, adventurous people who are in good physical condition, who are antiquity-oriented and history-oriented and may have had a taste of Turkey," Tibbetts says.

He doesn't recommend Turkey for children, noting it a trip for mature adults. Also, clients should stay hydrated, so alcohol consumption should be kept at a minimum.

Bright Future

According to numbers provided by the Turkish Culture and Tourism Office, tourism revenues make up about 24.5 percent of the country's export revenues. Turkey's total export revenue in 2004 was $63 billion (it was $73 billion in 2005 and $85 billion in 2006). In 2006, 532,481 Americans visited Turkey, up from just over 22,000 in 2005. Tourism officials believe that increased awareness from the news and advertisements contributed to the spike in numbers.

"I have had several people express interest in Turkey," says Barb Jones, owner and manager of Celebrity Travel, based in Morrison, CO and specializing in ecotourism and cultural tourism.

"This place is what I do. It has so many different cultures to explore. It has wonderful land and it is easy to get around; it's very safe."

About FLO USA

Aras says FLO USA, based in Florida, sends about 1,800 to 2,500 people a year to Turkey. FLO USA offers agents a 12-to-16-percent commission depending on volume. Call 888-435-6872 for more information. Tip: We recommend tipping FLO-USA guides about $6 to $8 a day and bus drivers about $5 to $6 a day.

Fast Facts for Travelers

The seasons are very similar to the U.S. Spring runs from mid-March through April, with the fall season beginning around October. Summer begins in May and the winter begins in mid-November. Ninety-seven percent of Turkey is earthquake capable, but the next major earthquake isn't expected until 30 years from now.

Turkey is about seven hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. Upon arrival at the Istanbul Airport, U.S. passport holders can get their visa, which costs $26. Only cash is accepted. Although the U.S. dollar is widely accepted, the currency in Turkey is the lira ($1 equals about 1.4 lira).

Direct flights to Istanbul are available from major U.S. cities such as New York; it takes about 10 hours to travel from JohnF.KennedyInternationalAirport in New York. The primary carrier of such flights is Turkish Airlines, an affiliate of American Airlines. Travelers will arrive at the IstanbulAirport, the country's major international airport located only about 20 minutes from the city's most vibrant area.