Recent months have been difficult for Turkey.
How has the country brand been affected?
Turkey is still reeling from damage suffered after a string of unfortunate incidents. Since summer 2015 there has been growing unrest in Turkey’s east, combined with increasing security concerns and an unfolding diplomatic crisis with Russia. These events have had an unsurprising effect on perceptions of Turkey, causing tourism numbers to drop significantly.
Tourism is one of the biggest drivers of country brand.
Although tourism suffers when perceptions of a country are bad, it is possible to use a good strategy to reconfigure country brand perceptions and regain losses.
Fortunately, package holidays are not the only kind of arrangement that brings inbound tourism to Turkey. Turkey’s best strategy in the current climate is likely to involve diversifying its tourism offering to appeal more strongly to more adventurous and independent types of visitors.
As far as being adventurous goes, walking from England all the way to Turkey via the Balkans may be one of the most exciting journeys that anyone could hope for!
Turkey’s tourism credentials are set to receive an extra boost from its plans to join the Via Francigena Cultural Route. Once Turkey gets connected to this trans-Europe walking network, it will open up many possibilities for new kinds of tourism.
Placesbrands spoke to Kate Clow, head of the Culture Routes Society of Turkey, and Hüseyin Eryurt, head of PR, about the project.
Pb: Where did the idea for this project come from?
KC, HE: The Lycian Way route was established in 1999 as the first walking trail in Turkey. In 2012 the Culture Routes Society of Turkey was formed to run everything more efficiently. We have close relations with the European Institute of Cultural Routes, which is important because they set the standards for all cultural routes in the EU. Turkey has been approved to join this agreement and will sign it very soon.
In 2014 we decided to work together with the Via Francigena route, on a plan to join it to Turkey using the Via Egnatia. The latter is the original Roman road to Constantinople and passes through Albania, Macedonia and northern Greece.
In Turkey, we plan to link three existing routes together into one longer route, rather than starting from scratch. The St Paul route has a strong Christian history, while the Lycian Way is very historical in general, and the Evliya Celebi route is more Islamic. (Evliya Celebi was a famous Ottoman traveller, who described many of the villages he visited in colourful detail).
Alternative and sustainable tourism is important because it can be aimed at a wide variety of tourists, including those from the Arab world as well as Europeans.
What are the key project milestones over the coming year?
The Culture Routes Society is working with three different Turkish municipalities along the route. Each of these areas will plan the route through their territory, improving accommodations, making masterplans, and holding exhibitions. One of them will host a group of Italian visitors along the route.
Another very important goal is to present the Tourism and Culture Ministry with alternative methods of providing a legal framework for the routes, to protect and preserve them by providing stability and maintenance, including forestry, dams, damaged roads, mining, and so on. This will hopefully be easier now as the ministry have already approached us to discuss the issue.
The timing of the project is good in that sense, because it is necessary now, to raise the issue even more. During the project we will present the ministry with a case study for laying the foundations for extending the Via Francigena right the way through Turkey. January 2017 will be the closing conference of the project.
What’s your opinion on the current situation of Turkish tourism?
Our members dealing with sustainable tourism have not been quite so badly affected [as package tours] because they are catering for more adventurous individuals and they put more effort into finding new markets. But in general, we’re seeing a big fall off in visitor numbers. We plan to meet the government soon to discuss how to secure this area of the market on a fairly low budget. We don’t have the resources to get this message across as much as we’d like to. So we do it through our member travel agencies, and they keep their customers on side as much as they can.
Sustainable tourism will be a growing sector in the long-term, that’s for sure.
How will the Via Francigena route be marketed?
Mainly by using social media and via our partner travel agencies. There will also be joint marketing efforts with Italy, at the festivals, and by bringing Italian students over to blog about the routes in Turkey as part of this project. We’re keen to develop strong connections with Italy.
Some areas get better promotion efforts than others, for example Via Francigena has been promoted in Italy via a series of summer festivals in various towns along the route. Promotion efforts have also included a marathon, music events, and so on. It’s an extensive programme.
What’s the value of cultural routes for improving country brand?
Europe approaches its long distance walking routes in a very different way to the rest of the world. Only in Europe do routes have a solid cultural basis. They may be based on historical themes or perhaps the routes of a particular traveller. One key advantage is to preserve the local culture and use that as a marketing hook to attract people interested in cultural themes.
Another big advantage is the participation of local people along the route. The Lycian Way is a great example. Tourists walking this route enjoy interacting with the locals and experiencing the culture as it is today.
This type of tourism is quite different from mass tourism, where people stay in big hotels without learning anything or giving money directly to the local people.
Unlike mass tourism, cultural routes generate alternative income for villagers. In fact, we’ve seen the villagers sometimes get up in the middle of the night and adjust the route markers to make sure the route goes through their door, or their part of the village!!