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Turkish Tourism and the Second Home Market – The Year In Review – and the Wonder that is Gobekli Tepe!

2018 has been the year in which both tourists and those in search of a home overseas have flocked backed to Turkey, smashing previous records out of sight.

The year end target of 40 million tourists was achieved with 2 months of the year to spare – by the end of October, Turkey had welcomed 40.5 million visitors from overseas, comprising 35.6 million foreign nationals and around 5 million Turkish citizens living overseas.

How did the Tourism Industry Recover in 2018?

In August of this year, the Turkish lira took a dramatic nosedive against the $US and was pretty much in freefall for the next couple of months that followed. The lira had never been in such bad health and economists and investors were left speculating about how this would impact on both the short and long term prospects of the economy.

The Turkish tourism and travel industries, however, saw this as a golden opportunity and kicked into action by offering quality, excellent value for money holidays at  prices not seen prior to 2000 – as a result, both travel agencies and airlines reported a huge surge in bookings.

Whilst the lira’s drop in value appears to have been the primary driver for the last quarter tourism upsurge, it was just the icing on the cake. In the first 6 months of the year, Turkey had already welcomed 16 million tourists, generating revenues in excess of 11.4 billion $US.

All those associated with the industry, including tour operators, airlines, restaurants and shops, breathed a collective sigh of relief – since early 2015, the industry had been in dire straits as ongoing internal socio-political events kept the tourists away. It finally looked as though the tide had turned as statistics revealed arrivals were up 30% compared to the same period in 2017.

In addition, the decision that – for 2018 and beyond – ‘diversification’ was the way forward, was paying off – other tourism sectors, including Halal and Medical, reported record revenues and arrivals. Weddings were also part of this new found success, with foreign nationals, particularly those from India, spending huge amounts on lavish and grand spectacles, primarily in resorts in the Antalya province.

Although the focus was firmly on foreign tourists, the Turks were also spending their cash, with hotels across the country reporting 100% occupancy rates for the Eid holiday in August. Local newspapers also reported that tourist numbers in the popular coastal resorts such as Alanya, Fethiye, Side, Marmaris and Bodrum, had all swelled to all-time highs.


So, as we approach the end of the year, how will the industry perform in 2019?

The 100-Day action plan

Tourism is without a doubt, a crucial part of Turkey’s economy, contributing somewhere around 10% of all GDP, through both direct and indirect expenditures.

Hence, at the beginning of August, the government unveiled their 100-day tourism action plan that would carry them through the rest of the year and set the blueprint for 2019.

An important part of this plan was to target medical tourists as this sector, whilst already in  current good health, has the potential to generate $US 20 billion (per annum) by 2023. The industry estimates that, on average, medical tourists spend as much as three times more than those coming here for the traditional ‘sun, sea and sand’ holiday.

Targeting the Chinese market

Turkey has also been courting the Chinese, the world’s most prolific overseas travellers and this has paid off handsomely with arrivals up a staggering 93% compared to last year.

Unlike Europeans, the Chinese are not beach lovers, preferring instead to head for the historical and natural attractions such as Ephesus, Pamukkale, Cappadocia and Olympos. Not only are they the country with the highest amount of international travellers, they are also big spenders, spending more, per person, than all other nationalities.

Yet, there is still plenty of room for improvement – tour operators in China have complained that there has not been enough flights to cope with demand. In addition, Chinese speaking tour guides in Turkey are very thin on the ground!

The New Istanbul Airport, however, will solve the flight availability problem.

New Istanbul Airport

With 66% of all air traffic passing over Istanbul, aviation experts agree that the airport will become the world’s busiest air transport hub – its location enables access to 53 countries and 118 cities within 4 hours and 66 countries and 143 cities within 5 hours.

The first phase of the airport is expected to handle 90 million passengers annually, placing it immediately in the world’s Top 5 busiest airports. When all phases are complete, the annual capacity will be 200 million passengers, almost double that of the world’s current busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta, USA.

Once all phases are completed, there will be 6 operational runways and 143 boarding gates – it is expected that there will be, on average, 3.500 aircraft departures / arrivals per day.

Turkish Airlines have already announced that increased availability of flights is likely to result in a reduction in ticket prices.


Historical Tourism

No-one can accuse Turkey of not promoting their historical sites, and the site of Gobekli Tepe, 6 miles from Urfa in the South-east of the country, is expected to be one of the star attractions in 2019. Just as this year was labelled ‘The Year of Troy’’ 2019 has already been earmarked as ‘’The Year of Gobekli Tepe’’.

This ancient marvel has been proclaimed by many academics as the greatest archaelogical discovery ever –  a site that will likely change our concept of human history, the origin of religion  and perhaps even uncover the truth behind the biblical Garden of Eden!

Archaeologists worldwide are in rare agreement on the site’s importance. ‘Gobekli Tepe changes everything,’ says Ian Hodder, at Stanford University. David Lewis-Williams, professor of archaeology at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, says: ‘Gobekli Tepe is the most important archaeological site in the world.’ Some go even further and say the site and its implications are incredible. As Reading University professor Steve Mithen says: ‘Gobekli Tepe is too extraordinary for my mind to understand.’

So what is it that has energised and astounded the sober world of academia? The site of Gobekli Tepe is simple enough to describe – a multitude of massive, T-shaped megaliths up to 6 metres in height and weighing up to 60 tons. Most are inscribed with bizarre and delicate images of wildwife, mainly of boars and ducks of hunting and game – some show snakes, crayfish or lions. The stones seem to represent human forms – some have stylised ‘arms’, which angle down the sides. Functionally, the site appears to be a temple, or ritual site, much like the stone circles of Stonehenge.

To date, 200 megaliths have been uncovered – the site is so extensive that experts believe it will require a further 150 years of excavation before the site is uncovered in full!

So – why is the discovery of Gobekli Tepe so important and so remarkable?

The first is its staggering age – carbon dating shows the site is at least 12.000 years old, pre-dating both Stonehenge and the Pyramids at Giza by some 7.000 years! – this makes Gobekli Tepe the oldest such site in the world and by a huge margin. It is so old that it predates our understanding of settled human life – it dates from a part of human history that is unimaginably distant, right back in our hunter-gatherer past.

This second point is nothing less than worldchanging, for it shows that the old hunter-gatherer life, in this region of Turkey, was far more advanced than we ever conceived – almost unbelievably sophisticated. Said one academic ‘it’s as if the gods came down from heaven and built Gobekli for themselves’!

The renowned archaeologist, Professor Klaus Schmidt, who led the very first excavations back in the mid 1980’s, has previously decribed this site as ‘ a temple in the Garden of Eden’ – to understand how such a respected scholar could have made such an extraordinary claim, it should be understood that most experts view the Garden of Eden story as a metaphor. According to the Book of Genesis, the Eden story tells us of humanity’s innocent and leisurely hunter-gatherer past, when we could pluck fruit from the trees, scoop fish from the rivers and spend the rest of our days at leisure. However, at some stage, the hunters that gathered at the site had to resort to farming, simply because their regular hunter-gatherer lifestyle was not sufficient to feed the hundreds of people that were likely to have been constructing and worshipping at the site at any one time.

Professor Schmidt concluded that ‘it was religion that motivated people to take up farming.’

The reason this theory carries so much weight is that evidence shows this is the birthplace of the first ever farmers – the world’s first farmed pigs, sheep, cattle and goats were all domesticated in eastern Turkey. All wheat species and other cereals such as rye and oats were derived from this region.

These days the landscape surrounding the eerie stones of Gobekli is arid and barren, but it was not always the case.  As the carvings on the stones show and as archaeological remains reveal, this was once a richly pastoral region. There were herds of game, rivers of fish, flocks of wildfowl and lush green meadows ringed by woods and wild orchards. About 10.000 years ago, this was a ‘paradisiacal place’, as Schmidt puts it. So – what destroyed this, lush, fertile environment?

As the region was farmed, the landscape and the climate began to change. When the trees were chopped down, the soil leached away and all the ploughing and reaping left the land eroded and bare. What was once an agreeable oasis became a land of stress, toil and diminishing returns. And so paradise was lost – ‘Adam the Hunter’ was forced out of his glorious Eden, ‘to till the earth from whence he was taken’, as the Bible puts it.

Of course, these theories might be dismissed as speculation. Yet there is plenty of historical evidence to show that the writers of the Bible, when talking of Eden, were, indeed, alluding to this corner of Turkey. In the Book of Genesis, it is indicated that Eden is west of Assyria. Sure enough, this is where Gobekli is sited. Likewise, biblical Eden is by four rivers, including the Tigris and Euphrates – Gobekli lies between both of these. In ancient Assyrian texts, there is mention of a ‘Beth Eden’, a House of Eden – this minor kingdom was just 50 miles from the site at Gobekli Tepe. The very word ‘eden’ comes from the Sumerian word for ‘plain’ and yes, you’ve guessed it, Gobekli does indeed lie on a plain, the plain of Harran.

The evidence, therefore, is very compelling. Gobekli Tepe is, perhaps indeed, a ‘Temple in Eden’, built by our leisured and fortunate ancestors – people who had time to cultivate art, architecture and complex ritual, before the traumas of agriculture ruined their lifestyle, and thus devastated their paradise. Recently unearthed skulls at the site suggest that this loss of paradise may have had a strange and darkening effect.

No one is sure, but the discovery of these skulls may be the earliest evidence of human sacrifice, an act that could have evolved only in the face of terrible societal stress.

These are almost incomprehensible acts, unless you understand that the people had learned to fear their gods, having been cast out of paradise. So, in order to propitiate the angry gods, they turned to human sacrifice and it is this savagery that may, indeed, hold the key to one final, bewildering mystery.

The astonishing stones and friezes of Gobekli Tepe are preserved remarkably intact for a bizarre reason. Around 8.000 BC, some 2.000 years after it was built, its creators turned on their achievement and entombed their glorious temple under thousands of tons of earth, creating the artificial hills that can be seen today. No-one has any idea why Gobekli was buried – maybe it was interred as a kind of self-penance, a final act of sacrifice to the angry gods who had cast the hunters out of paradise.

Whatever the answer, the parallels with our own era are stark. As we contemplate a new age of ecological turbulence, maybe the silent, sombre, 12,000-year-old stones of Gobekli Tepe are trying to speak to us, to warn us, as they stare across the first Eden we destroyed.



In Istanbul, all eyes will be on the opening of the Ataturk Cultural Centre, an architectural project being feted as modern Istanbul’s grandest landmark. Many said the old building was an eyesore but the new version, designed by the esteemed and respected Tabanlioglu Group, promises to be very pleasing on the eye.

As an arts and culture venue, it will comprise an opera house, art galleries, libraries, conference halls and much more. Officials hope it will make Istanbul a cultural centre to rival the likes of Paris, London and New York, further enhancing its value to Turkish tourism generally.

New Scheduled Flights to the Resorts

Speaking at the opening of the Turkish Pavilion at the World Travel Market last month, Culture and Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy announced that an agreement had been inked with Turkish Airlines confirming that, in addition to the the several charters already in place, new scheduled flights, to Antalya, Bodrum, Dalaman and İzmir, would commence in April 2019.

The Second Home Market in Alanya

In previous newsletters, we  have discussed the correlation that exists between the primary second home market and the tourism industry – generally, if the tourism industry is doing well, then so is the second home market.

2018 has been a record year for tourism in Turkey – by year end, Turkey will have received somewhere in the region of 43 million tourists, up around 30% compared to last year and some 6 million more than in the previous best year of 2014.

If the performance of the tourism industry has exceeded expectations, then that of the second home business has been quite staggering. Up until the end of November, foreigners purchased 35.103 properties in Turkey, up nearly 60% on the figure achieved for all of last year and around 53% higher than in the previous record year of 2015 when 22.830 units were purchased.

Perhaps even more staggering is that, of these 35.103 properties, 20.429 of these were purchased in just the last 4 months, with 6.276 being sold in October alone!

Historically, the second home market in Alanya has been sustained by those countries that first discovered it as a tourist resort – as a result, the majority contingent of its foreign owners comprise those that herald from northern and western European countries, including UK, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Netherlands And Poland. However, in recent years, due primarily to a shift in tourism marketing and a change in the rules of property ownership, we have seen a major sea change in those that are adopting Alanya as both their preferred holiday destination and the place in which to own a second home. Nowadays, Alanya is not only the single most important tourist resort in Turkey (in terms of revenue generated), it also accounts for nearly 20% of all Turkish property sales to foreigners!

Going back to the tourism / second home relationship, it is a fact that, historically, second home ownership (amongst foreigners) increases roughly in line with the number of visiting tourists – as tourist numbers increase, then so does the number of second home owners. In this last year, however, we have seen a bigger variation in this relationship than in previous years. By the end of October, Turkey had received 40.5 million visitors and second home purchases totalled 30.431 – in 2017, for the whole of the year, 32.4 million visitors were welcomed and 22.234 foreigners purchased a second home. So, we see that, whilst incoming tourist numbers have increased by around nearly 30%, foreign property purchases have increased, year on year, by nearly 40%. This does not factor in additional visitors or property sales for the last 2 months of the year – once these figures are available, we will expect to see an even bigger year on year increase in property sales to foreigners, possibly by up to as much as 50%.

The top 5 preferred provinces for foreign property investment over the last 5 years have been Istanbul, Antalya, followed by a combination of of either, Bursa, Yalova, Mugla, Mersin or Aydin. It is important to note, however, that of the total 117.315 properties sold over the last 5 years, property sales in Istanbul and Antalya combined have accounted for almost 60% of these, with Istanbul just edging out Antalya for 1st place. Whilst those buyers from north and western European countries (and increasingly more from eastern Europe and near Asia) still prefer to purchase in the coastal resorts, primarily within the Antalya province, those from the  ‘new-market’ countries (primarily in the Middle East) are choosing to purchase in Istanbul. Indeed, those from these Middle East countries are now the most prolific of purchasers, with buyers from Iraq, Iran, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia dominating the ‘purchases by nationality’ charts in recent years.

Onwards and Upwards

In conclusion, we believe that the tourism business has put the past to bed and that there is definitely a new found spring in its step. The industry will continue those initiatives introduced at the end of 2017 and will, surely, introduce new ones in order to continue this current upward trend.

It has already been announced that budgets will be assigned to specific country promotion and events, primarily UK, Germany, Russian and Arabic speaking countries – the decision to target German tourists is surely, in part, a result of the recent much improved relationship between the two countries.

Qatar Airways pic

Turkey is also likely to benefit from the ongoing US – China sanctions row (with many Chinese agents recommending Turkey as an alternative to the US) and the solidarity shown to Qatar by Turkey after the embargo imposed by Saudi Arabia and others in the middle of last year. Already, Qatar Airways has diverted 24 flights to Turkey that were previously scheduled for Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE.

The targets have already been set for the next 2 years – 48 million tourists in 2019 and in excess of 50 million for 2020 – if bookings and reservations continue at the pace that we saw this year, particularly in the last quarter, these targets should be attained.

So, looking again at the correlation between the tourism and real estate businesses, it is likely that 2019 will be another record year for real estate purchasers by foreigners.

From a company viewpoint, we have had an number of enquiries this year from overseas agents wishing to represent us and in the last 2 months alone, we have signed co-operation agreements with 7 of these – interestingly, 4 of these are from Middle East countries, whose citizens, as mentioned previously, are now buying in Turkey in ever increasing numbers.

Happy New Year!!!

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