top of page
  • hbanziger

H - 149 : How Turkey became a Tourist Destination

The Turquoise Coast near Fethiye features on many Tourist Leaflets - We go there Week 3

Visiting foreign countries is a recent phenomenon in human history. Roman citizens did not travel – with the exception of Emperors. They may have had a summer house in Baiae next to Naples. But they did not desire to go anywhere else. Medieval habits were not much different. Neither Christians nor Arabs travelled. Explorers like Ibn Battuta or Marco Polo were the exception. People travelled for war or trading but not for personal pleasure.


Mosaics of the Roman Villa in Baiae. After Earthquakes, the Villa sank below Sea Levels

All this changed with the industrial revolution. Big fortunes were made by exploring the world and understanding how it worked. Learning about geography and science became an important part of education. Once curiosity was triggered, young English men wanted to go on the “Grand Tour” – taking a year off to visit the birth place of western civilisation in Greece, Turkey, the Middle East and Egypt. Scores of young men were going on this trip – young women wanted to travel too but most were kept at home.


Reception of Lord Byron in Missolonghi in 1824 - he was a typical English Traveller

The first wave of tourism was a thin trickle. There was no purpose-built infrastructure. The youngster travelled on sail ships and horseback. Hotels as we know them did not exist. Everybody stayed at the Inn reached by the end of a day. Booking a room was something people could not imagine. Whilst travelling was time consuming, it gave English explorers the time to write books about their experience which incited more youngsters to travel.

Time Table for the Trains from St Petersburg to Nice


The second wave of tourism started with the Age of Steam and the linking of national railways. By 1870, it was possible to travel from London to Paris in one day. Paris to Nice took not longer. A decade later, Russians could take the train from St Petersburg and reach the Italian Riviera in two days – with the famous Wagon-Lit (sleeper coaches). Towards the end of the century, Parisians could travel to Istanbul in two days in the famous Orient Express. New hotels and restaurants were built. It was the time of the big palaces that we find from Nice to Interlaken in the Swiss Alps.

German Holiday Makers on their Way South 1964


After the interruption by two world wars, tourism resumed in the 1960 – this time based on cars. On the newly built highways, families spent up to 24 hours in the car to get from Hamburg to Rimini in Italy. This third wave of tourism had its geographical bounderies though. Driving from Germany to Spain was so uncomfortable that most people did not do it


The Boeing 737 revolutionised Air Travel in the 1970s

Cheap air traffic changed the game again. By the late sixties, Boeing and McDonald-Douglas brought the B-737 and the DC 9 to the market. Suddenly air fares became affordable. I remember the price of my first ticket to Athens in 1978 - CHF 800. A fortune at the time. Then years later it was 1/3 in nominal terms despite the rampant inflation. The price drop in air fares was truly amazing. People noticed. Suddenly, going on holiday in Portugal, Spain, Greece, Tunisia and Turkey was affordable. Entire new holiday destinations became reachable.


Turkish Daytime Excursion Boat returning to the old Harbour in Antalaya

Turkey was one of the main beneficiaries of this development. Unreachable by train or car during the Cold War because the iron curtain cut across the lines of communications, it became accessible. For the first time in history, it was able to attract visitors from abroad in large numbers. Turkey also benefitted from its membership in NATO. Bordering with the Soviet Union, the country was a front line state. In the 1950/60s, Turkey built many military airports. The Turkish Air Force was upgraded with modern fighter jets. The US Air Force permanently stationed fighter wings in the country. The new military airports had long run ways and could be put to dual use. I noticed this when landing in Dalaman 30 years ago.


A USAF F-100 Fighter-Bomber in Incirlik in 1960

Neither Bodrum nor Antalya first had the infrastructure to accommodate large numbers of guests. I remember the small hotels, the stalls which became restaurants, the coastal freighters converted to Gulets or the military shack that served as arrival hall in Dalaman. The Turkish government, not known otherwise for consistent economic policies, recognised the value of tourism and invested accordingly. Despite changes in government, it never stopped. Before Turkey became Europe’s manufacturing center, getting foreign currency was a challenge. Turkey had only agricultural products to export but already faced big bills for importing oil and gas. Tourism was the answer.


One of the few remaining unspoilt Pebble Beaches South of Antalya

In 1955, 107'248 foreign visitors came to Turkey. Twenty years later, the number was 10 times larger with 1.15 million visitors. By the year 2000, the number again increased by factor 10 and reached 10.5 million. Today, 52 million tourist visit the country every year, mainly people from Germany, Russia (despite sanctions) and the United Kingdom. After Spain it ranks No 2 in international tourist arrivals. Tourism contributes USD 41 bn in revenue (5% of GDP). Given the country's currency problems and recent rapid Lira depreciation, the value of this contribution is not to be underestimated. Erdogan certainly knows.

A typical Beach Resort between Antalya and Side - the 50 miles of Beach are full of these

The hast with which Turkey’s tourism sector was developed is visible in many places. Most though in Antalya. Within 50 years’ time, the sleepy fishing village was catapulted into a town which made it to the list of the ten most visited towns in the world. When we sail from Side to Antalya we can see it. Miles upon miles of hotels. There is no natural beach left. The town is visited by 15 million people every year.

Pamukkale in Western Turkey with its thermal Springs flowing down Travertine Terraces

It is affordable tourism though – the average person spends USD 650.- per visit. The cost of living are at about 50% of Western Europe. Sun is guaranteed. Turkish food is delicious. Every hotel has a kindergarten. History buffs can visit beautiful Roman Side; disco fans check themselves in on one of the many pirate ships with loud music. There is something for everybody. Turkey made great efforts recently to upgrade its tourism. 1.3 million Health Tourist who come for cosmetic or dental surgery contribute USD 2 bn each year. The government restores ancient Hellenistic and Roman sites which were neglected for centuries. Inland tourism is developed. Gastronomy and wines improved remarkably. It is best seen in Istanbul, which moved from shabby chic to a fascinating modern metropolis.

Istanbul is today one of the most visited and fascinating Towns in the World



17 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page