Enjoying a boom in the arrivals of foreign visitors, Turkey has seen a double-digit increase in both the number of foreign tourists and tourism income in 2018.
The country welcomed 39.5 million foreign visitors last year, a 21.84 percent increase year-on-year, according to the Culture and Tourism Ministry, while the national statistical body revealed that the country's tourism income surged 12.3 percent to $29.5 billion.
In his keynote speech at the 23rd Eastern Mediterranean International Tourism and Travel Fair (EMITT), one of the four biggest tourism fairs in the world that kicked off yesterday at the TÜYAP Fair and Congress Center, Culture and Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy said the government has revised the 2023 targets to 70 million tourists and $70 billion in income.
Speaking of the 2018 tourism data released by the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat), Ersoy said the total number of tourists that visited Turkey last year reached 46.1 million, out of which 6.6 million were Turkish citizens residing abroad. The figure corresponded to an 18.1 percent hike from the previous year.
Istanbul, Turkey's world-famous touristic city, was the top destination with 13.4 million tourists, accounting for 34 percent of all foreign visitors. The Mediterranean resort city of Antalya followed Istanbul with 12.4 million foreign visitors in 2018.
Russia was the top country with 5.96 million visitors last year, accounting for 15.1 percent of all foreign visitors welcomed in Turkey. Russia was followed by Germany (4.51 million visitors), Bulgaria (2.38 million visitors), the U.K. (2.25 million visitors) and Georgia (2.07 million visitors).
Last year, the most preferred means of transportation was air, bringing in over 30 million foreign visitors. Nearly 8.5 million and over 988,700 visitors used roadways-railways and seaways, respectively.
The annual tourism revenue, which surged by 12.3 percent last year, up from $26.3 billion in the previous year, TurkStat said, "While 81.8 percent of this income [excluding GSM roaming and marina service expenditures] was obtained from foreign visitors, 18.2 percent was obtained from citizens residing abroad."
It also noted that in the said period, while individual expenditures constituted $22.5 billion of total tourism income, $6.9 billion of tourism income was obtained from package tour expenditures.
According to official data, average expenditure per capita was $647 in 2018, as foreigners spent $617 per capita and Turkish citizens spent $801 per capita.
TurkStat said visitors spent most on food and beverages in 2018 − foreigners with around $4.38 billion and Turkish visitors with $1.55 billion. Foreigners spent some $2.7 billion on clothes and shoes, and $966 million on souvenirs in addition to nearly $77 million on carpets and rugs.
The primary visiting purpose of foreigners was "travel, entertainment, sports and cultural activities" with 60.5 percent, as their top accommodation choice was hotels/motels with over 36 million overnights.
The primary travel reason for Turkish visitors residing abroad was "visiting relatives and friends" with 50.4 percent, while they mostly preferred private houses during their trips in Turkey with more than 17 million overnights.
Government targets qualified tourists
In his speech at the fair, Culture and Tourism Minister Ersoy said the per capita income in the sector was recorded as $647 in 2018 compared to $681 achieved in 2017, noting that even though it is important data, it should be interpreted in a different way with the addition of a new figure. Pointing to the importance of overnight per capita income, Ersoy said this figure was $63.2 in 2017. "Although it will be announced on Feb. 7 for certain, the estimated overnight per capita income in 2018 was $66.5. This figure started to improve this year," he added.
Touching on the target of 70 million tourists and $70 billion in income, the minister said to achieve $70 billion in income, it is necessary to increase the per capita income by 50 percent by 2023. "In doing so, we now need to move from quantity-based tourism to qualified tourists, meaning tourists with high non-accommodation spending," he continued. "Because it is not possible to achieve a 50 percent increase in per capita income only by increasing accommodation income. We need to diversify and increase our non-accommodation income as well."
Underlining that the perspective toward tourism should be changed in the first place to achieve the target of qualified tourists, he also pointed to the importance of prioritizing revenue-oriented tourism rather than cost-oriented, as well as demand-oriented tourism rather than supply-oriented.
Ersoy said Turkey's archeological, cultural values, arts and artists and rich gastronomical diversity are at the forefront, and that the tourism concept, where these features provide unrivaled opportunities and chances to stand out compared to competing countries, should be developed. He added that the infrastructure needed for qualified tourists should also be created with human resources as the primary goal.
With regards to the significance of transportation in tourism, Ersoy noted in relation to the protocol they made with the national flag carrier Turkish Airlines (THY), they decided to launch scheduled flights to Antalya, Bodrum, Dalaman, and İzmir airports as of April, primarily from countries providing a large number of tourists.
'Promotion budgets significantly increased'
He further remarked that from this year forward, they will give priority to 12-month tourism in the new tourism areas that they will open to allocation.
"We need to introduce our projects for the transition to qualified tourists in Turkey to target audiences abroad," he said. "As of 2019, we have significantly increased overseas promotion budgets as both state and ministry. In January, we launched an advertising campaign in magazines, television programs and digital platforms in the U.K., Germany, the Netherlands, Russia, Ukraine and the Gulf countries."
Ersoy said they are planning to implement the Tourism Development Fund at the earliest convenience after the local elections, which are to be held on March 31, stressing it is a very important fund – the likes of which are run in many countries around the globe.
Indicating that it is also important in terms of continuity, the minister said the fund's board consists of tourism investors.
Turkey posts highest increase in hotel occupancy rate in Europe
Furthermore, the Turkish Hotel Association (TÜROB) yesterday reported that hotel occupancy rate, revenue per available room (RevPAR) and the average daily rate (ADR) for rooms increased annually in Turkey last year.
Hotel occupancy rates across the country rose nearly 10 percent year-on-year to 66.2 percent in 2018, according to the association's report, based on a survey conducted by data and analysis company STR Global.
RevPAR increased to 46.6 euros ($53.5), up 17 percent while ADR for rooms went up 6.6 percent to 70.4 euros ($80.9) during the same period.
The report showed that Turkey posted the highest increase in hotel occupancy rates and RevPAR among European countries. However, it could not reach the average for Europe.
In Europe on average, the hotel occupancy rate was 72.4 percent and RevPAR was 114.4 euros ($128) last year, the report said.
Timur Bayındır, the head of TÜROB, said the country should focus on congress tourism in order to raise revenues per available room.
"We are expecting a 10-12 percent rise in both hotel occupancy and average daily rates this year," Bayındır said.