Lying at the northwestern edge of a Muslim world in upheaval, Turkey remains an oasis of calm, democracy and burgeoning tourism. Destinations Editor Kenneth Kiesnoski interviewed Ebru Ejder, the new director of the Turkish Culture and Tourist Office in New York, about the destination and its plans to attract more U.S. visitors.
Travel Weekly: How is Turkey performing from the U.S.? The U.S. accounts for about 2.5% of visitors; are American arrivals growing?
Ebru Ejder: We are pleased that more and more Americans are choosing to visit Turkey. We are confident that they do, not only because of our rich history, cultural traditions, vibrant and modern cities and our outstanding hospitality standards but because they recognize the exceptional value for money spent that a visit to Turkey represents. With our new marketing, advertising and [public relations] campaigns in the U.S., we hope to continue to increase the number of U.S. visitors to Turkey.
TW: What's your goal for U.S. arrivals?
Ejder: The tourism sector's target is to be among the top five countries in the world in terms of attracting the highest number of foreign visitors and receiving the highest amount of tourism revenue by 2023.
TW: Last year Istanbul served as a European Union cultural capital. Did associated arrivals meet expectations?
Ejder: Istanbul's [designation]as 2010 European Capital of Culture further emphasized the city's importance within the international environment, in addition to providing more exposure for Istanbul to attract an increased number of visitors in the future.
The World Tourism Organization has announced that Turkey is the seventh most visited country in the world. Despite lingering global economic uncertainties, Turkey's ongoing popularity as a tourism destination continues to strengthen, with strong growth among international arrivals. In 2010, 28.6 million foreign visitors came to Turkey, representing an increase of 5.7% over 2009.
TW: What are you promoting in 2011 to potential U.S. visitors?
Ejder: When Americans think of travel to Turkey, Istanbul is the place that immediately comes to mind. We educate North American travelers about the exciting diversity of landscapes, attractions and experiences throughout Turkey and encourage them to extend their visits and explore the other fascinating regions, such as Central Anatolia-Cappadocia; Ankara; the Aegean region -- Izmir, Kusadasi, Bodrum and Cesme -- [the] Mediterranean; [the] Black Sea; and southeastern regions of Turkey.
TW: Have the uprisings in nearby Arab countries affected tourism to Turkey at all?
Ejder: Everyone is watching the events in the Middle East with concern, and the turmoil will certainly impact tourism to those Muslim nations. Visitors will select new destinations for this timeframe and return when things return to normal.
However, Turkey is a major and growing European Mediterranean country and, like other European destinations, will attract visitors who are seeking the history, culture, museums, archaeology, cuisine and coastline that make Europe so appealing.
TW: Why do U.S. travelers head to Turkey? Are there favored destinations, activities, etc.?
Ejder: Turkey is a safe, historically rich, culturally diverse and affordable destination that truly welcomes Americans. Turkey is a captivating blend of antiquity and modern attractions of cosmopolitan cities like Istanbul; it has spectacular natural wonders like Cappadocia: cave hotels, underground cities, churches, hot air ballooning; superb cuisine and wineries; matchless ruins of Ephesus and Troy; miles of beaches; and quaint villages of the Aegean, Mediterranean and Black Sea regions.
TW: How do most Americans arrive in Turkey? By sea? By air?
Ejder: Cruise travel is one of the major ways that Americans first experience Turkey. We promote Turkey as an ideal pre- and post-cruise vacation destination.
TW: How is your cruise sector performing?
Ejder: Our cruise sector is very important, since most of our first-time foreign visitors experience Turkey by cruise.
The main cruise port is Ege Ports-the Port of Kusadasi, which handled over 35% of total calls in Turkey in 2010.
Data published by the Turkish Undersecretary of Maritime Affairs indicates that Turkey is becoming an increasingly popular cruise destination. The number of tourists arriving in Turkey by cruise ships exceeded 1.75 million in 2010, which accounted for approximately 6.1% of the total number of foreign tourists.
TW: The tourist office recently crafted a travel agent specialist course with ASTA. How important are retailers in selling Turkey vacations in the U.S.?
Ejder: Travel agents are significant players in helping us sell our destination to their clients in the U.S.
The [ASTA] program teaches agents how to formulate a clear and vivid picture of Turkey's 10,000 years of history and culture by studying the country's seven major tourist regions. Agents are taught how to develop sales and marketing strategies for selling these destinations, including how to properly qualify clients and create vacations suited to their particular demographics and interests.
To learn more about the ASTA Turkey: Specialist Course, agents should visit www.asta.org/education/ and click on "Educational Programs."