After a period of instability, Turkey is experiencing a resurgence among operators. Debbie Ward charts the destination’s rise.
After years in the tourism wilderness caused in part by security fears, confidence in Turkey has returned, with 2019 looking set to be a great period for the destination.
Online travel agency TravelZoo reports a 46% year-on-year increase for online searches for Turkey this year.
The country has leapfrogged Greece to become Thomas Cook’s second most popular package destination for summer 2019 after Spain, and is also accounting for about a quarter of its flight-only bookings.
When its Holiday Report was released at the end of April, 47% of Thomas Cook’s UK package-holiday bookings for this summer were for non-eurozone destinations, which were up by 10% year-on-year.
The operator believes it is not only Turkey’s value but also its diversity, sandy beaches, salt lakes and ancient ruins that are driving demand for the destination.
There’s a buoyant message too from Alexander Regelmann, chief operating officer at Dogus Tourism Group, who oversees one of Turkey’s largest tourism conglomerates including luxury hotels.
He says: “With definite signs of upturn and summer bookings to Turkey predicted to rise by 45% this year, the destination is firmly back on the travel map. We have seen a significant increase in our guests from the UK and Europe; this summer will almost certainly be marked as a record-breaking year for tourism in Turkey.”
Compared with last year, tour operator KE Adventure Travel has seen an almost 400% increase in Turkey sales. Joanna Rolls, head of product, says: “Turkey has been another country that sadly, due to somewhat biased media reporting and people’s lack of understanding of just what sort of a country it is, saw a real downturn in bookings in 2018.”
She believes the country’s bounce-back is, in part, due to the attractive diversity of product spanning adventure, family holidays and more.
Rolls adds: “Turkey will also benefit from the uncertainty of Brexit and the fact that when the lira dropped so much against the pound it became, once again, a very good value-for-money destination – always a bonus in uncertain times.”
Olympic Holidays also credits the favourable exchange rate for a boost, adding the country’s wide range of all-inclusive hotels is helping to attract budget-conscious families in particular. Marmaris and Belek offer a good selection of four- and five-star all-inclusives at great prices, points out Ricky Wason, the operator’s head of product and purchasing.
Meanwhile, he says, couples who favour smaller hotels in places like Olu Deniz and Fethiye will find eating out cheaper in Turkey than eurozone destinations.
New flights from the UK to Turkey include a daily seasonal Gatwick to Antalya service from Turkish Airlines and a five-times weekly Manchester to Istanbul route from Pegasus.
Simply Luxury by Travel 2, which is reporting a 20% upturn for Turkey, credits this increased airlift, along with the proliferation of great-value five-stars, as a factor. “We have seen enquiries for fly-and-flop, in particular to the popular regions of Bodrum and Antalya,” says Lauren Ross, product and commercial manager for Europe.
“We have also seen some passengers tie up these trips with a two- or three-night stay in Istanbul to combine both city and beach holidays.”
Gulet cruises are a unique Turkey experience, and Red Savannah saw enquires for them double during the first four months of the year compared with the same period in 2018, while its land-based holidays were up by 138%.
“Turkey’s political turmoil left the centre-stage of world news a long time ago now, to be replaced with more positive news such as the successful opening of the huge new airport in Istanbul and the continued development of Bodrum for high-end luxury tourism,” says chief executive Edward Granville, also citing the good exchange rate for a rise in bookings.
While Brexit uncertainty, a favourable exchange rate and a period of political and economic stability have helped Turkey out of the tourism doldrums, new product is also aiding its resurgence.
Nicolas Villemin, regional director for the Middle East and North Africa at Preferred Hotels & Resorts, says: “The Turkish Riviera on the Bodrum peninsula is experiencing a flurry of new hotel openings and leisure developments that will help to further showcase the area’s beautiful beaches, world-class restaurants and historical sites such as Castle of St Peter, Bodrum Amphitheatre and the Mausoleum.”
Exsus has found rising Turkey demand for its more off-the-beaten-track areas like the Gallipoli peninsula and the ancient Greek city of Ephesus, besides the ever-popular rock formations at Cappadocia.
Similarly, boutique hotel and villa specialist Simpson Travel has expanded its Turkey programme beyond the popular hotspots, adding properties in the unspoilt villages of Islamlar and Uzumlu.
Among other new product from operators, KE Adventure Travel has revamped its Lycian Way hiking holiday, which covers the eastern leg of the route, prompting a huge surge in demand.
The operator has also introduced a Turkish Coastal Family Active holiday. Peter Sommer Travels’ 2019 programme includes several cultural cruises in Turkey: a Gastronomic Gulet Cruise; Walking & Cruising Western Lycia; and Cruising to Ephesus.
The 108-room Bodrum Edition is among new upscale hotels launched in the past year on the Bodrum peninsula. Six Senses Kaplankaya has, meanwhile, drawn a lot of positive attention since its opening under the brand last year. Also on the wellness theme is the Hillside Beach Club in Fethiye, whose new programme of events for 2019 includes Feel-Good Weeks dedicated to wellness.
Thomas Cook has also given a vote of confidence to the destination, debuting two own-branded hotels in Turkey this summer: Cook’s Club Adakoy Marmaris in Dalaman and Cook’s Club Alanya in Antalya.
With a range of new product available and bookings on the up, it seems Turkey is back in the spotlight once again.
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