I love Turkey, so let me say that off the bat. I taught English in a suburb of Istanbul back when I was childless and I have incredible memories from there.
Turkey now is not Turkey then, however. You often hear about a “tourism explosion” and they’re talking about an increase after a period of not much interest. Turkey has been off the charts for a decade now. “The latest data on Turkey’s $25 billion tourism industry show the number of tourists—local and foreign—increased by almost 11% in the first seven months of this year compared with the same period in 2010, according to the Ministry of Tourism. And 2010 was a bumper year.”
That’s according to the Wall Street Journal. As this article indicates, you’re not going to a country like that to escape the crowds. “Hotels in Istanbul are clocking the highest occupancy rates in Europe, while many of the city’s conference halls are booked well into next year, industry groups and analysts said. Turkey’s coastal resorts say they are turning away customers.” Europeans with loads of cash are now joined by Middle Eastern travelers with even more.
So, as I said a while back, Turkey will not appear in the 4th edition of The World’s Cheapest Destinations, out in late 2012. Sure, prices have gone up in a lot of other places I’ve profiled, mostly the result of a weak dollar, but that’s the ironic thing: Turkey’s currency is one of the few that has dropped badly against the dollar this year. So you’re getting something like 15% more for you buck than you did a year ago—a significant amount—but with so much demand from people richer than you, prices keep rising.
What really makes it tough though, is that the government has continually hiked prices for all the major sites you would want to visit. In some cases it’s literally 10 times what you would have paid a decade ago. Sure, Aya Sofia is kind of interesting, but is it worth $13 to see a mix of Christian and Muslim images together behind a wall of perpetual scaffolding?
A simit was a pretty good fake-sesame-bagel snack at 15 cents U.S. But at the current equivalent of 75 cents to a dollar, not so tasty. The doner kebab sandwiches I used to chow down on for $1.50 were a deal. At the current $4-$6…not so much.
The Islamist government in this previously more secular nation is also fond of sin taxes. A year ago they raised the tax on beer to 63%. In other words, every time you buy a beer in Turkey, nearly 2/3 of that price is going to the government.
I once spent a few days reveling in Bodrum, drinking cheap beer and eating well on a backpacker budget. Alas, those days have been gone for a while. As the Journal says, “Turkey’s coastal resorts are seeing record demand, with the Mediterranean hub of Antalya reporting a 14% rise, to a record six million visitors, in the seven months to the end of July. In Bodrum, the Aegean peninsula famed for its package tours and luxury resorts, hoteliers are predicting a record season. Authorities are building a new airport to cater to expanded demand.”
I’m sure I’ll return to Turkey later when I’m old, just as I’ll hit many parts of Europe I’ve been saving for when I’ve got less taste for adventure and more money in the bank. But for now, unfortunately, a pass.
[Flickr photo of Istiklal Caddesi by erindipity]