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Turkey's booming tourism industry

  • Turkey has a big market in tourism where Malaysia can learn and collaborate in order to benefit Malaysian economy and tourism industry as well.

By Prof Dr Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani

I had a chance to visit Turkey recently and watch a first hand of Turkish politics, economy, social and culture. I, in a delegation of 9 Malaysians, was invited and sponsored by Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Turkish Embassy in Malaysia and Turkish Airlines to visit several places in Turkey particularly Istanbul and several areas in the southeast of Turkey from 17 June till 23 June 2019.

My first impression about Turkey is that it is a colourful and beautiful country with friendly peoples who were always excited when I mentioned that I was from Malaysia. Clearly, they know about Malaysia very well, as a Muslim country like Turkey.

I had the opportunity to visit many historical sites and museums like the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. When travelling to the southeast of Turkey, I visited among others the Citadel and the Walls of Diyarbakir with View of Hevsel Gardens Cultural Landscape (UNESCO World Heritage Site – second largest city walls in the world after the Great Wall of China), the Gobeklitepe (The Oldest Temple of The World, UNESCO World Heritage Site), the Legendary Pool of the Sacred Fish in Sanliurfa, Mount Nemrut, Zeugma Mosaic Museum, and many more beautiful places.

Without doubt, Turkey is renounced as a country with a long history and tradition, and also rich in cultures from old civilisations.

Highlight of my visit was not simply an activity of sightseeing and leisure. I learned a lot about Turkey especially about the people in urban and rural area, agricultural sector, tourism, politics and economy of Turkey.

This lets me to believe that Turkey has full potential in which both countries Malaysia and Turkey can further explore, more than before. For Malaysia, Turkey has strong potential that Malaysian government, agencies and private companies can explore in Turkey and vice versa.

According to Malaysia’s Ministry of International Trade and Industries (MITI), Malaysia’s trade with Turkey amounted to RM12.06 billion, while export and imported accounted for RM10.51 billion and RM1.55 billion, respectively. Malaysian companies have taken advantage of the Free Trade Agreement in 2016. Among the main items from Malaysia to Turkey are palm oil, raw aluminium and electronic products, and solar energy.

However, tourism industry is booming now in Turkey, taking advantage from the lower rate of Turkish Lira. Turkish Lira was dropped significantly to 7.23 per US dollar in August 2018 after Donald Trump imposed sanctions on Turkey’s steel products and several of its ministers for the detention of a US pastor on terrorism charges.

However, since then Turkish Lira has climbed back to 5.77 per US dollar on 24 June 2019, straight after Ekrem Imamoglu, from the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), won the second Istanbul’s mayoral election, after the first Istanbul on 31 March 2019 was cancelled, defeating the former prime minister, Binali Yildirim from Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Clearly financial and economic crisis have an effect to Turkish politics and reducing supports toward the AKP led by Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan. I was there in Istanbul watching the campaigning period in Taksim Square and TV Channels.

This result in my view shows that Turkish democracy is slightly controversial but alive and fresh though. It also shows that the middle class is in control of Turkish politics, the same group of people that will ensure revolution and military coup are things in the past history because it would never happen in Turkey any more, at least in the near future. The main concern of Turkish citizens is their livelihood and economic prosperity, this will definitely boost the tourism industry.

Turkish Culture and Tourism minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy announced recently an unveiled new tourism package to host millions of tourists with a high spending power to meet its 2023 vision for tourism sector targeting “70 million tourist with US$70 billion revenue” programme for 2023. This will boost Turkish economy and will end the ‘season’ concept in tourism.

Turkey is also targeting 500,000 tourists from China to visit Turkey by 2020. Ibrahim Halil Kalay, member of board of the Tourism Ministry and Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TURSAB), told the TRT World that Turkey hosted almost 40 million tourists in 2018, an increase of 22 percent compared to 2017

However, Turkey has enough capacity to host 100 million tourists in 2019. Medical tourism is also popular in Turkey. Medical Tourism magazine estimates that the cost of receiving quality healthcare in Turkey is 50 to 65 percent lower than in the US.

In 2017, according to the Turkish Healthcare Travel Council, Turkey provided healthcare for 765,000 patients from 144 different countries. Turkish Airlines even offers flight rates at discounted prices to medical travellers.

Another important increasingly important tourism industry in Turkey is the Halal Tourism. What is Halal Tourism? ‘Halal’ means permissible for Muslims in Arabic which applies to not only foods, but also all daily activities in accordance with Islamic law and tradition. For instance, segregated swimming pools or beaches for women, private family pools and alcohol-free menus are determining factors for tourists looking for halal tourism.

According to TRT World, halal-friendly institutions also offer a copy of the Quran, prayer mats as well as a sticker on the hotel room’s ceiling to show the qibla (the direction of the Kaaba – the sacred building in Mecca – which Muslims face during prayer).

In Turkey, dozens of hotels on the coasts, are now also featuring segregated pools and beaches for men and women in accordance with Islamic guidelines on modesty, and are attracting families from Turkey, the Middle East and Muslim communities in the West. According to the Halal Summit Council, the global industry for halal tourism stood at approximately US$226 billion in 2017.

Ufuk Secgin, marketing director of halalbooking.com, an online platform that specialises in halal friendly hotels, spoke to TRT World’s Money Talks about halal tourism. He said that, "In 2018, we have maintained double growth trend. Last year we saw 35,000 tourists booked halal friendly resorts in Turkey. And this year (2019), we are aiming to increase this number to 75,000-90,000.”

Meanwhile, Global Muslim Travel Index (GMTI) 2019 released in April 2019 has ranked Turkey as the world’s third best tourist destination conforming to Islamic guideline (or Halal guideline) after Indonesia and Malaysia. Both Indonesia and Malaysia scored 78 points for the Index. Turkey rose to 75 points from 69.1 in 2018.

Without doubt, Turkey will one day surpass Indonesia and Malaysia because of big market and potential that Turkey has at this moment. The GMTI also reported that Halal tourism has contributed to 35 percent of global economy to US$300 billion in 2020 from US$220 billion in 2016. Many non-Muslim countries such as New Zealand, Japan and Thailand are also jumped into the big market. What can I see is that Turkey has a big market in tourism where Malaysia can learn and collaborate in order to benefit Malaysian economy and tourism industry as well.

(Prof Dr Mohd Azizuddin Mohd Sani is Professor of Politics and International Relations, Universiti Utara Malaysia.)

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