London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Turkey’s intake of visitors from the Gulf region is on the up, the country’s tourism authority said on Tuesday, with the world’s sixth-most popular tourism destination reporting a healthy year-on-year rise in tourists from Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait.
Turkey’s Cultural and Tourism Office posted figures showing the number of visitors from the three countries had jumped 46, 40 and 28 percent respectively during the first four months of the year from the same period the previous year.
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) currently accounts for 5 percent of Turkey’s tourism revenues, which totaled 32.3 billion US dollars in 2013, according to figures from Turkey’s official statistics agency Türksat.
“[These figures are] understandable [because] the GCC and Turkey both have historical and cultural ties, and this is evident in the increase of tourists over the last year. [Tourists] are choosing the country based on its locality, cost and historical richness,” said Mustafa Özdemir, Turkey’s tourism representative at the country’s consulate in Dubai.
Istanbul remains the most popular city for visitors from the GCC, the authority said, but seaside cities such as Antalya on the Mediterranean and Bodrum on the Aegean Sea, as well as Bursa in the country’s northwest, were also becoming popular with tourists from the Gulf, particularly during the peak summer months of July and August.
“In order to further increase visitors and highlight Turkey to [the GCC], we will be looking for opportunities to invest in tourism in order to foster sustainable growth and mutual understanding between our two countries,” Özdemir added.
To cater for a growing Arab tourist market, the Turkish Culture and Tourism Ministry opened an Arabic-language website in late 2012.
Visitors to Turkey from Arab countries in general, and not just the GCC, have also soared in recent years following the outbreak of the Arab Spring in early 2011. The resulting political turmoil and instability in some of the Arab world’s traditional tourism hotspots such as Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon have led to visitors choosing the relatively more stable Turkey.
In the first summer following the Arab Spring, figures from Turkey’s tourism authority showed bookings had jumped by around 75 percent from countries such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
Official figures showed that some 1.4 million tourists from Arab countries visited Turkey between January and August in 2011, up from 1.2 million in the same period in 2010 and 912,000 in 2009.
Other factors cited for the rising numbers of Arab tourists include Turkey’s visa-waiving policy for Arab Spring countries such as Tunisia and Egypt following their ousting of longstanding dictatorships unsympathetic to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamic-leaning government, and the rising popularity of Turkish television soap operas—exports of which more than doubled to 130 million US dollars in 2013, up from 1 million dollars in 2007, with the bulk of these receipts coming from Arab countries.