Turkey's long and varied sea coast, high mountains and lakes, and its many historical, religious, and archaeological sites (possibly including more Greek ruins than survive in Greece) give the country unrivaled tourist potential. Until the 1980s, Turkish tourism lagged far behind its counterparts in other Mediterranean countries, and visitors tended to stay for shorter periods of time and spend less money than in countries such as Spain, Portugal, and Greece. The Özal government's promotion of tourism in the 1980s led to dramatic change. The number of visitors grew rapidly during the 1980s and early 1990s, and Turkey was able to appeal to tourists from many different countries. Including business travelers, Turkey hosted about 1.3 million visitors in 1983 and 2.1 million in 1984, whereas Greece during the same period received at least 6 million and Spain 40 million visitors annually. By 1987 visits to Turkey had increased to about 2.9 million, and by 1992 close to 7 million.
In the early 1980s, most tourists came from European countries, especially Greece and West Germany, but the number of Middle Eastern tourists also increased. Even in the late 1980s, however, European tourists accounted for nearly 61 percent of total arrivals. By 1992 the European proportion had fallen to 45 percent.The largest increase was registered in tourists from the republics of the former Soviet Union. By 1992 they accounted for 43 percent of tourists, whereas the Middle Eastern share had shrunk from 11 percent to 8 percent.
Regional origin is a good predictor of the type of tourism and destination. Middle-class Turks, who started to take vacations in the early 1980s, usually prefer the beach resorts on the Aegean and Mediterranean seas. Tourists from Western Europe, Israel, and the United States tend to visit beaches and historical sites. East European tourists, particularly from the former Soviet Union, typically come to Istanbul or Black Sea towns to shop or barter goods. Tourists from Iran and other Middle Eastern countries generally take longer holidays in Istanbul and Bursa, also coming to shop in Turkey.
Although tourism earnings reached US$770 million in 1985 and jumped to US$3.6 billion by 1992, the industry has been plagued by political, economic, and environmental problems. The fallout from the nuclear power plant disaster at Chernobyl in the Soviet Union, terrorist attacks by Kurdish insurgents, and economic problems in Europe and the Middle East have tended to discourage tourism. Turkey has attempted to overcome these impediments by improving domestic services. The number of beds for visitors rose from about 49,000 in 1980 to about 206,000 in 1992, for example. The total will probably reach 600,000 by the end of the 1990s. One important effort, the South Antalya Project, involves transforming a seventy-four-kilometer stretch of Mediterranean beaches into a base for resort villages. Istanbul, the main tourist center, still lacks sufficient beds, however, and there is a tendency to concentrate on luxury hotels that are too expensive for middle-class tourists. Nevertheless, the mid-1990s saw a noticeable improvement in the average spending per day by tourists: US$141 compared with the world average of US$70-US$100. Shopping tours helped raise the average significantly.
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