Turkey tourism booming as bargains abound

A mosque along the Bosphorus, one of more than 2,500 in Istanbul.
A mosque along the Bosphorus, one of more than 2,500 in Istanbul. Photo Credit: Jeri Clausing
Jeri Clausing
Jeri Clausing

Even luxury travelers like a bargain. And as its shaky economy affects the local currency, there may be no better time to visit the re-emerging hot spot of Turkey.

After a tough few years following several terrorist attacks and a coup attempt, tourism to Turkey began booming again this year. And hoteliers from Istanbul to Cappadocia to Bodrum say things are only getting better.

Virtuoso this month put Turkey at the top of its "Hot 10" list, noting that bookings by U.S. travelers are up 310% from a year ago. Egypt came in second, with a 264% growth rate.

Turkey is also the fastest-growing destination this year for the adventure operator Intrepid Travel, which doubled its itineraries there this year and now reports a 214% growth in global bookings. That's down just 20% from the high in 2014, compared to a 73% drop from 2014 to 2017.

Adding to the recovery: the recent drop in the value of the lira against the dollar.

"Right now, people who travel to Turkey are facing maybe the best value Tukey has ever offered in the last 10 years," said Koray Sahmali, founder and managing director of the luxury tour operator Icons & Styles.

"Most hotels at the luxury level base their rates on the dollar or euro. Still, when you arrive, food and beverage, shopping, all of that is all in the Turkish lira."

Indeed, Melih Akay, a sales executive for the Caresse, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa, in Bodrum, says it's hard to even find a room in the the seaside resort this month.

"Almost all hotels are fully booked," he said. "Tourism is very well in Turkey this year. We are so happy with that."

Likewise, say officials from the Ciragan Palace Kempinski Istanbul and the Ariana Sustainable Luxury Lodge in Cappadocia. 

"We do see some dramatic increases in travel to Turkey from all markets," said Koray Edemen, proprietor of the Ariana, noting, however, that the number of U.S. travelers still lags the high of 2014. 

Still, most are optimistic the influx of Western travelers will continue to rise throughout the year and into 2019.

Just back from Virtuoso Travel Week in Las Vegas, Sahmali said, "A lot of people are very interested in and actually very excited about Turkey coming back. Turkey definitely is a destination that is needed by agents.

"A lot of agents have been to Turkey. They see themselves that things are back to normal and it's a great value. Most agents are truly recommending Turkey to their clients."

Intrepid is also bullish on Turkey's continued recovering, offering new itineraries through both Intrepid Travel and its premium sister company, Peregrine Adventures.

"Turkey has always been a hot spot," said Jen Hartin, Intrepid destination manager for Turkey and the Middle East. "Now things have settled down. And the currency devaluation is good for travelers. That's the realistic part of it." 

Correction: The information quoted in this article are reflective of the Intrepid Travel brand, not of the Intrepid Group umbrella as an earlier version of this article stated.

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