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Safety first for visitors.

In the first of three articles focussing on tourism, The Middle East looks at Turkey which hopes to benefit from the collapse of the holiday market in the former Yugoslavia. But even Turkey has to make an effort to reassure visitors about their security.

FIGHTING IN BOSNIA, which has led to a virtual collapse of the tourism industry in the former Yugoslavia, and attacks by Islamic fundamentalist groups on Western tourist buses in Egypt, have given the Turkish tourism sector a new lease of life. Officials in Ankara are predicting a bumper year in 1993, having recovered form the side-effects of the Kuwait crisis.

During the campaign to liberate Kuwait two years ago, Turkish tourism suffered heavily from cancellations, pushing many tourist operators to the brink of bankruptcy. But last year Turkish operators started to recover as Western visitors returned. According to Turkey's minister of tourism, Abdulkadir Ates: "In 1992, seven million foreigners visited Turkey bringing in $3.8bn in revenue. This year we expect 8.5m arrivals and $4.5bn in revenue."

Of the two million tourists from Germany alone which Yugoslavia lost as the result of the crisis in the Balkans, Turkey, Greece, Spain and Tunisia will be the chief beneficiaries. As a tourist destination, Turkey recently won a gold medal from the German Travel Association, beating Greece and Spain. The only drawback of the Yugoslav crisis is that the overland route from Europe to Turkey has been largely severed.

Turkey currently has a hotel-bed capacity of 210,000, but the plan is to make 300,000 more available over the next few years. The sector is a major revenue earner - roughly equivalent to about a third of export earnings.

However, Turkey has political problems of its own in the south-east of the country where a nine-year revolt by Kurdish separatists have resulted in almost 6,000 deaths. While this has not affected arrivals coming to Turkish Mediterranean and Aegean destinations such as Antalya, Alanya, Kemer, Fetihye, Bodrum, Uludeniz and Kusadesi, foreign investment in Turkish tourism is still on hold.

Turkey is taking no chances in averting a Kurdish threat to tourism with the same disastrous consequence to the industry as Islamic extremists have wrought in Egypt. Adverse publicity caused by attacks on foreigners has cost the Egyptian tourist trade $500m in the last five months alone. The Turkish government has stepped up security, especially at vulnerable resorts in Cappadocia and in eastern Turkey, and has assured foreign tourists that they will be protected against any potential terrorist threat.

One constraint of the Kurdish guerrillas is that attacks on German tourists in Turkey could have repercussions on the 400,000 Turkish Kurds who live in Germany. The political costs would prove too high, which explains why there have been very few attacks on resorts in Turkey by terrorist groups.

However, underground groups have mounted operations in Istanbul, which is a major tourism destination. According to Bulent Ecevit, a former premier, separatist and outlawed Marxist groups such as Dev Sol have ventured for the first time into new areas even as far north as Edirne. The targets may not be tourists, but it is dangerously possible that foreigners could be caught in the crossfire or in a bomb blast.

The tourism sector is also taking its own measures to safeguard the industry. The Turkish Tourism and Travel Agencies Union (TURSAB) has teamed up with a number of insurance firms such as Halk Yasam Insurance to build clinics complete with English-speaking medical staff and air ambulances to serve foreign tourists. They will be offered special travel insurance at minimal cost.

Tourism policy still suffers from a lack of coordination, however. Just as yachting starts to take off in Turkey with a growing demand for berths, the government has increased the entry charge for boating engineers on foreign yachts entering Turkish marinas from $5 to $10. Marinas from Istanbul to Kemer are protesting against this at a time when they are preparing for a big yachting boom this year. Yacht tourism, together with "culture and heritage", are the biggest growth areas in the sector.

Apart from European Community countries, Japan and the United States, the Turkish Tourism Board is also promoting itself in South Africa, Taiwan, South Korea and the Efta (European Free Trade Association) countries, especially Scandinavia, Austria and Switzerland. The number of tourists arriving from South Africa has significantly increased over the last two years as Ankara has improved relations with Pretoria.

Tourists from the Soviet successor states and the former eastern Europe also make up an increasingly important group, although many Poles, Yugoslavs, Czechs, Russians, Bulgarians and Romanians visit the country chiefly to sell goods for hard currency or barter rather than strictly as tourists. In simple numerical terms, Greeks form the largest contingent of visitors to Turkey, but their interest is chiefly confined to shopping expeditions, thanks to the liberal export import regimes first instituted by the governments headed by the late Turgut Ozal.

In an industrialised world still racked by recession, the competition for tourism in the Mediterranean, especially from the European Community will become tougher over the next two years. The Balkans, despite the progress of the Vance-Owen peace plan, will be out of bounds for years to come. Iraq, Algeria and the Occupied Territories will all enhance the Middle East's image of instability. Foreign tourists can be expected to think twice before venturing out to any country which cannot present itself credibly as a "safe haven" for tourists.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Turkey's tourist industry
Publication:The Middle East
Date:Jun 1, 1993
Previous Article:Victim of regulations.
Next Article:Flicker of life.

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