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A dual edged sword.

Tourism has proved a valuable source of foreign exchange earnings for a number of countries in the Middle East region. In Egypt, for example, along with expatriate workers remittances, which have been down since the Gulf war and oil earnings, which are shrinking as domestic consumption increases, tourism is among the countries highest yielding foreign exchange earner. Now, even some of the oil rich states of the Gulf, among them Bahrain and Oman are embarking on ambitious plans to attract foreign dollars and dinars. However, along with the wealth tourism can bring to its host country there are frequently myriad disadvantages.

Certain Spanish resorts that 25 years ago attracted curious foreign travellers to their sleepy Mediterranean shores are today, for the most part, largely unrecognisable as the pretty fishing ports they once were.

Many could, these days, best be described as concrete jungles full of high rise hotels, noisy nightclubs and third rate restaurants. The intrinsic beauty that pulled in the foreign hoardes is gone, bulldozed to make way for bigger and better facilities for the visitors who now no longer come.

Because what was foreign, exotic and attractive is now commonplace and ugly and no longer holds any attraction for the discerning traveller. Spain is certainly not alone in this, Italy and Greece have also had similar experiences with some of their coastal villages and towns.

Low budget tourists will continue to visit such resorts since the cut price bargains hoteliers must offer to fill their rooms will always find some takers among the sun, sand and sangria tourists seeking beach and bar holidays. But visitors hoping to experience authentic local customs and culture will probably stay well away.

Tourism frequently follows patterns which are snobbish and unfair. We want to discover somewhere special and new but when too many other people share that discovery and the local population start building hotels in which to accomodate them, restaurants in which to feed them and importing beer and foodstuffs to make them feel "at home", the place looses its allure.

An official involved in Oman's fledgling tourist industry recently explained to The Middle East that the sultanate had targetted specific types of tourist it would like attract.

These include chiefly business people and others interested in learning first hand about the country's history and culture.

"We are determined to control the flow of tourist traffic because we are very much concerned about Oman's enviroment and its society. We want to ensure that there are no negative effects. We are taking things very gradually.

"We do not want high numbers of tourists entering the country at this stage," explained Fatima Hilal, of Oman's Directorate of Tourism.

Oman can afford to take its time, to take, as it has, the best advice available from the world's most successful national tourist organisations. The sultanate has allocated over $2m to be spent on a special five year tourist marketing programme to ensure it gets exactly the numbers and the types of tourists it requires.

It would be surprising if such well laid plans went awry. Other nations however, are obliged to strike while the iron is hot and this is what has happened in Turkey.

Keen to attract foreign currency, to further develop a nationwide infrastructure which will include modern roads, hospitals and schools and, not least, to perhaps help ease its path towards membership of the European Community (EC), Turkey has worked hard at attracting tourism.

For more than 20 years, small, select groups have been discovering the delights of this ancient nation which straddles Europe and Asia but in recent years the number of foreign visitors has increased at a dramatic rate. And Turkey's entree into the package holiday business could hardly have come at a better time.

Disenchanted with the holidays resorts of Spain, Italy and Greece, northern Euopean tourists have for some time been keen to cast their nets further afield.

Turkey, with its spectacular scenery, its history, its usually good weather and its areas of spectacular coastline has proved to be, for many, a perfect choice. Some areas, such as Bodrum and Marmaris, are already recognised commercial successes, others - and there are many of them - remain, for the moment at least, undiscovered. Fettiye was among these undiscovered gems as recently as eight years ago.

A pretty town set between the foothills of the Mendos mountains and a shoreline dotted with natural bays and inlets where until the 1980s the locals made a living mainly from fishing and farming.

Twenty six year-old Ayhan Keloplu has lived in Fettiye all his life. He was a teenager when the first package tour visitors began arriving. "At first local people didn't see the potential. We were hospitable to the foreign visitors, that is part of our tradition but not many of us recognised what a huge difference the arrival of tourism would make to all our lives.

At first business people and shopkeepers from other areas of Turkey - places where the potential of tourism was already recognised - were the ones to benefit. They came to Fettiye and bought shops and restaurants and we saw they were making a good living. Gradually, about four or five years ago this started to change. Local farmers sold their fields and started buying shops and restaurants too."

Ayhan ackowledges that were it not for the arrival of tourism in his home town his life would probably have been very different. "When I was growing up tourism didn't exist as far as I was concerned. I can remember when I was studying German at school, I would sit in the classroom and say to myself, 'Why are they trying to teach you this? What possible use will being able to speak German ever be to me?' Now of course I wish I had paid more attention. In a few weeks I will travel to Frankfurt to begin a course in German. It will cost me a fortune to learn what I could have learned for free as a boy".

For the last five years Ayhan has spent the summer months working in one of Fettiyes busiest restaurants, The Megri, where he is a waiter.

During the winter months he is studying business administration which, he hopes, will help him realise his ambition of owning and running his own restaurant. He speaks in an articulate and intelligent way about the pros and cons of his hometown becoming a tourist haven but leaves the listener in no doubt about where his loyalties lie.

Looking around the bustling streets of Fettiye's touristic "bazaar" area, he observes: "Six years ago these streets were deserted except for the occasional man coming to the Turkish bath house which still stands on the corner. These shops selling food, leather goods, souvenirs, clothes, they used to be old warehouses. A person would have been scared to walk these streets at night.

"Now, for seven months of the year they are full of people day and night. Fettiye has become popular and famous".

Ayhan agrees that there have been changes in the way the locals think as well as in the way they earn their living. "The mentality of the townspeople has changed. Young people have become more European in their dress, in their thinking, in all ways. Women have changed. Here, unlike in some other parts of Turkey, they are allowed out without an escort.

"Some of them drink and smoke, they do not wear the same sort of modest clothes their mothers wore. Remember that in some parts of Turkey after a bride and groom have spent their first night together a bloody sheet is produced to prove to the neighbours that the girl was a virgin. This still goes on in most of the country. But here we are much more modern, not quite as modern as Istanbul or Izmir, where I know of boys and girls living together without being married."

But as Fettiye and indeed Turkey strives to catch up with Europe will there, I wondered, be great losses incurred. Ayhan believes there will be but considers it is the price Turkey will have to pay. "I believe in my culture and I love the Turkish way. I am 26 years old but even though I smoke I would not do so in front of my father, nor would I lounge about in front of him.

"I sit straight and erect in his presence because I respect him, these things will not change. But I have noticed that already other things are changing. For example, traditionally when Turkish men meet they will kiss and embrace each other. I would no longer do that, I don't know why but none of my friends do it either.

"I think there will continue to be changes both in our culture and in our town as more and more tourists come here. I would not like to see Fettiye turn into a resort like Bodrum or Marmaris where they have taken down forests to put up hotels, they could be anywhere. I hope Fettiye can retain its identity as a Turkish town, that it will not become somewhere people come just for the sea and the sun."

At the end of the tourist season in October Ayhan returned to his studies. However, for most young men involved in the town's tourist industry the winter months are lean ones. "In the winter there is nothing to do here. The shops and most of the restaurants are closed.

"Of every ten of my friends, seven or eight are involved in tourism in some way. They can not all find work in winter, many of them spend their time sitting in cafes, drinking coffee, playing games and talking about what happened during the last season and what they hope will happen in the next one."

Bearing this in mind I wondered if Ayhan could ever forsee a time when tourism would not exist in Fettiye. If the fickle tourist hoardes move on, what then?

"During the Gulf war tourism suffered. Turkey has a border with Iran which scared the tourists off, it was a crisis. We also have the Kurdish problem, there have been threats to target tourist areas with bombs. But we are a long way from any trouble here, I believe the tourists will continue to come to Fettiye.

"Turkey is cheap, there is lots to see, the weather is good, it is a perfect place for a holiday. Everybody here is saving either to buy a shop or a restaurant or, if they already have one, to buy a bigger one. Of course, they will continue to come".
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Title Annotation:Mosaic; tourism in Turkey
Author:Lancaster, Pat
Publication:The Middle East
Date:Dec 1, 1993
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