When too much is never enough...

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Turkey is without doubt one of the most beautiful and intriguing countries on earth with stunning coastal resorts, amazing cuisine refined over millennia and unrivalled cultural history and heritage locations that are the envy of the world. 

The other day the Minister of Tourism and Culture, Mr Mehmet Nuri Ersoy announced that Turkey welcomed and estimated 40 million visitors in 2018. An outstanding result by any standard. Certainly nothing to be sniffed at. Imagine my surprise then when following this statement, the Minister added, “It is our intention to grow this figure to 70 million by 2023.

Hang on a minute….that’s an additional ….30 million visitors in less than four years!

 He continued. “We will determine visitors spending habits, interests, what they like and promote these accordingly. We will promote tourism based on demand, not supply. We will prepare large scale projects introducing Turkey from the east to the west.” 

OK …that sounds like a plan of sorts…I suppose.

 The reality and practicality to all this is that it has taken decades and a whole of industry approach to reach the current arrival figure of 40 million. So can you really expect to put in place all the checks and balances, policies and regulation, alignment of key stakeholders, government departments and institutions that need to be involved in less than four years? 

The answer is ‘NO’ – and to think that you can is simply ridiculous. 

With the best will in the world this just ain’t going to happen because it involves just too many moving parts which all need to be turning with synchronicity.  

What’s more disturbing is that the basis on which this growth will occur is lofted on two key strategies:

1.    Remove seasonality 

This makes sense on many levels. It may be a simplistic notion (difficult in practice) but just look at the mess we have created by funnelling people into destinations during ‘Peak’ seasons. Ask any local of Santorini or one of the millions of visitors shuffling behind the flags of their tour guide and they’ll all agree. Enough is Enough. This is NOT what I signed up for! 

So an end to seasonality with a more balanced approach to managing visitor arrivals is a practical and common sense strategy to explore.

What would help is if schools began to use technology that allowed students to study outside the classroom. This actually works. I know because my daughter’s school already does it…    

But finding ways to create a more balanced approach to visitor arrivals that relieves the pressures of overtourism and congestion definitely gets my tick.

2.    Grow Turkey’s Cultural Heritage Tourism (CHT) Sector

There is no doubt that the uniqueness and sheer depth and breadth of the CHT offerings in Turkey make it among the most diverse and exciting of any global destination. The ability to travel and experience ancient places that scream ‘Human Antiquity’ is exactly what I look for travelling overseas. As a result I have witnessed on many, many occasions these types of extraordinary sites and cultural offerings being abused by visitors and authorities (sadly in most cases without their knowledge). 

There are also those that masquerade as legitimate tour guides or companies offering nothing of value or authenticity, seeking only to take what they can when they can with no thought or concern for the negative impact of their activities.

Just look at what’s happened with the Jarawa Tribes of the Andaman Islands – but that’s for another day, although you may wish to check this link out when you have a moment.

In most cases any negative impact stems from a lack of understanding or working knowledge of what needs to be done to protect our precious people and places. It is this lack of understanding that needs to be corrected through education, training and the introduction and policing of regulations and ethical practices.

If we don’t, we have no right to expect these precious remnants of humanities past to be there for the generations that will follow us. 

Moving on….

In his announcement speech Minister Ersoy made reference to the return of more than five thousand works of art that had been stolen from Turkey and he highlighted the fact that more than two thousand additional works were currently in the process of being repatriated. 

He noted, “These should have never left the country. We must nationalise excavation sites and raise awareness about this issue. The world must NOT stay silent to this type of theft.”

He is absolutely correct but, stolen or not, these works of art have been treasured and kept safe. Whether through self interest or historical preservation these ancient works have remained protected. So I find it ironic to then invite millions of tourists to visit one’s ancient historical sites and expect the sites to remain perfectly intact. Just ask our friends at Angkor Wat.

If things are to change for the good then it is the tourism sector that must adapt. We must change the way that we view the world and wise up to the fact that once these precious people and places are gone, then they’re gone for good. They can’t be planted. They can’t be regrown. They simply become extinct.

No longer can this planet and the people who call it home be viewed as simple commodities by our industry -- items to be put on shelves or sold online with no thought other than ‘profit’. 

I estimate we have five years maximum before some cracks become too wide to close. But, by then, Turkey may have attracted another 30 million more visitors and that’s just one country on this fragile planet. 

What happens when others follow in their footsteps?