Turkey to plan post-quake strategy

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LONDON -- Turkish tourism officials are formulating a marketing strategy to counter the negative publicity generated by the earthquakes that have hit the country in recent months.

A spokesman for the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies told Travel Weekly during World Travel Market here that Turkish officials, including the minister of tourism and the head of the Turkish Tourist Office, are meeting in Ankara to discuss options.

Meanwhile, he acknowledged that the country was jittery as seismologists have predicted that another quake near Istanbul was likely.

"But we don't know if this will be tomorrow or in 100 years. What we want to show the world now is that we'll be ready for it with buildings that meet international codes," he said.

The spokesman pointed out that nearly a dozen major earthquakes occur around the world each year, and that people don't stop visiting cities like San Francisco just because they are near major fault lines.

"The point is, we are learning from our mistakes, such as sloppy building inspection, and the government is very obviously taking measures to ensure the safety of people in and around Istanbul."

He echoed comments made by Turkish suppliers here when he said one of the country's biggest hurdles was convincing visitors that no tourist sites or hotels were damaged by the quakes.

The August earthquake in Izmit, about 60 miles east of Istanbul, registered a magnitude of 7.4 on the Richter scale and killed an estimated 17,000 people in mostly poor areas, where construction did not meet required building codes. Another quake last week in Duzce, 80 miles east of Istanbul, reached a magnitude of 7.2 on the Richter scale and resulted in the deaths of more than 500.

"The hotels in Istanbul were built under strict international codes; that's why they were not and will not be damaged by the earthquakes," the spokesman said.

"At the same time, our monuments that have stood for centuries were untouched by the earthquakes. Of course, there is nothing we can do to prevent earthquakes, but we do need to reach out to agents and operators overseas and explain to them that the country remains the same as it has been [before the earthquakes] for tourists."

Along these lines, a new advertising push will be announced at the end of the month that will "substantially increase our marketing budget and road shows," he said.

The spokesman estimated that the August earthquake resulted in a loss of $150 million in tourism dollars, accounting for about 300,000 visitors, mostly from Europe.

"With this second quake, the loss will not be as bad because we are going into the winter season when we have fewer tourists."

A $9 billion industry, Turkish tourism relies heavily on its European-dominated resorts in the Antalya region, which is about 250 miles southeast of Istanbul, far away from the earthquake zone.

Nonetheless, some groups stayed away or canceled their trips following the last quake, the spokesman said. "Fortunately, most travelers have short memories, and if all goes smoothly, we will recover next year," he said.

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