Due to giant corporations' decisions to resume cruise tourism activities on "floating hotels" able to host thousands of passengers each and incentives announced by the government, Turkish ports can take center stage once again.
According to the General Directorate of Merchant Marine, Turkey, which brought 2.2 million tourists and hosted 274,000 ships in 2013, managed to get a 10 percent share of the world cruise tourism market.
After global companies excluded the Eastern Mediterranean from their routes following tensions in the Middle East, the number of cruises gradually declined last year, dropping to 307 ships and 306,000 tourists.
The publicity and lobbying activities run to revive the sector, which is dominated by the ports of Kuşadası, Istanbul and Izmir, have begun to bear fruit.
As a result of the meetings with top executives of U.S.-based cruise ships, MCS, one of the major players in the sector, announced that will it add İzmir and Antalya to its routes as of the 2019 season, while Norwegian Cruise Line will cover Kuşadası as of the 2018 season, followed by Holland America Line with Turkish ports from 2020.
Turkey Cruise Ships Platform Executive Chairman and Izmir Chamber of Commerce (IZTO) Chairman Ekrem Demirtaş told Anadolu Agency (AA) that 70 cruise ships are being constructed in the world and will be used on efficient, profitable lines, pointing to the Eastern Mediterranean as the most important candidate in this regard.
Demirtaş said cruise companies have decided to make a new start for this reason. "Of course, these decisions were taken before the incentives announced by the government. We need to come together with cruise companies, explain the incentives in detail and demand an increase in the number of cruises," Demirtaş said. "The state has done its part. It is our turn now."
Demirtaş stated that İZTO wants to continue the incentive of head tax they apply to vessels approaching İzmir Port and that they plan to extend this support until the end of 2019.
Indicating that cruise tourism plans are made 2 years in advance and that a decision taken today becomes effective in 2019, Demirtaş stressed that Aegean and Istanbul ports will return to their old days as of 2020.
Aziz Güngör, general manager of Kuşadası Aegean Port, where the largest number of cruise ships dock in Turkey, said they expect approximately 120,000 tourists with 140 cruises in 2018, indicating that in addition to planned vessels, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean Cruises have decided to schedule four additional trips.
Güngör said they accept this decision as the first signal of returning to old days. "We expect the number of trial cruises of the world's largest cruise companies to increase in 2019. The Norwegian Cruise Line and the Royal Caribbean Cruises companies are planning eight additional cruises for 2019," Güngör continued. "With these results, we expect 2020 to be the year to return to 2016 figures for Kuşadası. We received the good news that all major companies arranging cruises to Turkey before 2016 will come back."
Maritime Chamber of Commerce Izmir Branch Vice Chairman and MSC Turkey Coordinator Savaş Ercan said the incentives provided by the government are of vital importance for travel agencies that have been experiencing troubles for a while.
Ercan said incentives should also be provided for cruise operators. "As MSC, we brought back five cruises to Turkey in 2019. We are working on accepting passengers from Turkey as well," Ercan said. "I believe 2020 will be a very bright year for the cruise sector and old days will be resumed rapidly."
Gianluigi Baltazzi, general manager of Karavan Tourism, which represents the leading cruise groups in Turkey, said tourism mobility in Turkey has been reflected in cruise occupancy rates. Highlighting that the tours covering Greek islands and Turkish coasts are full, Baltazzi said they expect this line to become popular once again in the coming period.
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