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Old 4th November 2005, 10:34   #1 (permalink)
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Thumbs up Turkey hopes tourism boom helps it EU bid

CNN

Jan and Anita de Bruyne stood outside the Haghia Sophia, a magnificent 6th century building that was once the world's largest church but is now a museum in a country that is 99 percent Muslim.

But the Dutch tourists weren't going inside. "I've seen it too many times," said Anita. Jan said it was his sixth trip to Turkey.

The de Bruynes are among some 22 million tourists expected to visit Turkey this year -- an increase of 25 percent over last year, according to figures from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

Those visitors include 12 million Europeans and a growing number from the United States who have become enchanted with this country lying on the fringes of Europe and Asia, rich in the ancient histories of many civilizations. Some 334,000 U.S. citizens visited Turkey during the first nine months of 2005, a 47 percent increase over last year, and some 550,000 American tourists are expected next year.

Turkish leaders hope all these visitors will help improve their country's image and deepen ties with other nations -- an effort that has become particularly important as negotiations get underway for full membership for Turkey in the European Union.

The EU talks began October 3, but the proposal remains controversial. If admitted, Turkey would be the only country in the EU that is virtually all Muslim, and it would stretch the borders of the EU east to Iran, Syria and Iraq. The latest polls show only 35 percent of Europeans support Turkey's EU bid, and their views on Turkey's lack of "Europeanness" are proving stubbornly hard to overcome -- even among Europeans who enjoy vacationing here.

"It's a nice place to come visit, but it's something else to have it as a member of the European community," said Jan de Bruyne.

Still, tourism is seen as a way to soften these attitudes. "Tourism must be taken up as a national policy priority, supported by all sectors, groups and organizations," the government's 2005 "Tourism Master Plan" posted on the ministry's web site says.

East and West
There could hardly be a better backdrop than the Haghia Sophia for discussing the pros and cons of allowing Turkey to join the EU.

On the one hand, the church, built under the direction of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, is a reminder to many European visitors that Turkey has been home to a complex mix of civilizations. As Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said, Turkey "can easily be a bridge between East and West."


Tourists stroll the Ottoman-era spice market in Istanbul.On the other hand, the Haghia Sophia sports four minarets, thanks to the Muslim conquest of Constantinople in 1453. The fact that one of the most spectacular Christian structures ever built eventually became a mosque underscores the vast cultural differences between Turkey and other EU nations.

Americans contemplating travel to Turkey also sometimes wonder if they will be welcomed here, given the backdrop of the war in Iraq and anti-American sentiment in some parts of the Middle East.

The answer is "most definitely," according to Pamela Lassers, spokeswoman for Abercrombie & Kent, a luxury travel company based near Chicago. "That's the one thing people comment on when they return. They were surprised at the hospitality they find in Turkey -- not to mention the wonderful infrastructure and wonderful hotels."

She added that the company is seeing "a pent-up demand for Turkey. It's one of the places people are requesting this year as they're looking at more exotic destinations. ... It's so rich in history and has such an interesting culture with the influence of both East and West."

Even recent reports of bird flu cases have failed to rattle potential visitors. "People sometimes ask questions about it, but with all the information we have now, they understand that it's primarily a problem for people who have direct contact with the birds, so they're not too concerned about it," said Lassers.

Meltem Onhon, a spokeswoman for the Turkish Culture and Tourism Office in New York, agreed that tourism has shown no signs of dropping off in response to the bird flu reports. She added that "there is no evidence of any human contraction of the virus in Turkey."

Promotion abroad
Turkey's tourism industry took deep hits in 2001 following the terror attacks on the United States and again in 2003 with the start of the war in neighboring Iraq, but recovered rapidly and has become one of the country's most important and fastest-growing sources of income. Al-Qaida-linked truck bombings in 2003 also set back tourism, but the country has more than recovered and tourism is expected to contribute around $20 billion to the economy this year.

The country is certainly blessed with more than its share of attractions. Istanbul spans two continents and was the capital of both the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. The country's western and southern borders are the Aegean and Mediterranean seas.

Government-sponsored promotion abroad has also helped push the industry forward. For months, buses in many cities across the world have been plastered with images of Miss World 2002, Turkey's Azra Akin, blowing kisses and welcoming visitors.

"Their advertising campaign got my attention," said Spyros Boukalis, a Greek-American visiting Istanbul at the end of a monthlong European tour.

Abercrombie & Kent has 17 tours of Turkey planned for 2006 with three separate itineraries and is also increasingly being asked to arrange individualized itineraries for Americans who want a private driver and guide.

Popular destinations, in addition to Istanbul with its Grand Bazaar and many cultural attractions, include the Aegean Sea resort of Bodrum; the ancient city of Ephesus, where archaeologists are preserving sites dating to Roman times; and Cappadocia, where hot-air balloons take visitors above "fairy chimneys" of stone that are so soft the Byzantine Greeks carved subterranean cities out of them.
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Old 7th November 2005, 06:41   #2 (permalink)
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Re: Turkey hopes tourism boom helps it EU bid

Thanks Canim,
good news for Turkiye.
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