Turkey’s new Minister of Culture and Tourism, the Hon. Professor Dr. Numan Kurtulmuş, has announced an ambitious plan to restore the country’s tourism industry. Kurtulmuş has set a target of 50 million international visitors to Turkey by 2023, a goal that is expected to generate $50 billion in economic impact.
Turkey’s tourism numbers had declined in 2016 following a failed coup last July against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that killed more than 270 people. After that, a series of terrorist attacks in the country led to a 30 percent decline in visitors, from 34.8 million in January – November 2015 to slightly over 24 million for the same period in 2016.
“2016 was a lost year for Turkish tourism,” Cetin Gurcun, secretary general of Turkish travel agency association TURSAB, said at the time.
A U.S. State Department travel warning is in effect for Turkey. Last updated March 28, the State Department warns that terrorist attacks over the course of 2016 resulted in hundreds of deaths, and that additional attacks in Turkey could occur at major events, tourist sites, restaurants, nightclubs, commercial centers, places of worship and transportation hubs. Foreign and U.S. tourists and expatriates have also been targeted by terrorist organizations in Turkey for kidnapping and assassination, the State Department said.
The security situation had also prompted major cruise lines to cancel calls to the country late last year, including Holland America Line, Cunard, P&O Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, Costa Cruises, MSC Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Windstar Cruises and Oceania Cruises.
As late as May 2017, the latest statistics from the European Travel Commission (ETC) were showing a continued tourism decline in Turkey. In the “European Tourism in 2017: Trends & Prospects” report for the first quarter of 2017, the ETC reported that tourism to Turkey was down 8 percent.
At the same time, in his statement announcing the new tourism plan, Kurtulmuş said that tourism to Turkey was making progress, increasing by 14.05 percent during the first six months of 2017, and improving 36.53 percent year over year in June.
Turkey’s Ancient Ruins of Aphrodisias were also declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017. The year also saw The New York Times name the Aegean island of Bozcaada one of its “Top 52 Places to Visit” this year and Newsweek name the 13th Istanbul Biennial one of the world’s top five exhibitions worth traveling for.
“Few countries have as wide a variety of tourism and cultural attractions as Turkey, including – and, perhaps most importantly – its figurative and physical position as a bridge between East and West that embraces visitors from across the globe,” Kurtulmuş said in a written statement. “We see this strength as vital to our vision for bringing communities together, and we will invest heavily in public and private partnerships to ensure we are developing these tourism products to diversify our markets and audiences.”