Recent weeks have seen much debate about the number of tourists arriving in Turkey under "all-inclusive" packages that some say are having a negative impact on local economies.
In the Mediterranean town of Fethiye, the local branch of the Turkish Confederation of Tradesmen and Craftsmen, or TESK, is supporting a drive by the organization’s Muğla group to get all-inclusive hotels banned in the province. Mehmet Soydemir, the chairman of TESK’s Fethiye branch, says he has been inundated with requests Ğ or, more accurately, demands Ğ from the tradesmen he represents that something be done before it is too late.
"It is difficult to know where to begin," Soydemir told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. "Tradesmen are really suffering, and although tourism is an important part of the local economy, the increasing number of all-inclusive hotels means that we now have tourists who contribute very little to Fethiye’s economy."
Of course, there are at least two sides to every debate. For the tourists who come to Fethiye on all-inclusive deals, a holiday in the sun that includes all their accommodation, meals and local drinks for 350 euros per person is a great opportunity. Such vacations are especially attractive in lean economic times, when a lack of disposable income means that many people would have to go without holidays if these packages were not available.
Brothers Alan and Ian Earwacker from Liverpool found their holiday package on the Internet. "The cheapest we could get was 380 euros each," they said. "That includes flights, transfers, the hotel and all the food and drink. It is really a good value." These prices are not unusual. A local resident confirmed that some friends stayed in Ölüdeniz for two weeks at 350 euros per person per week as part of an all-inclusive package.
For some, the search for ever-cheaper holidays has become an endless process of trawling the Internet and exchanging gossip about which resorts are offering the "best deals."
But a holiday this cheap means that someone suffers. In this case, it is generally the hotelier, who gets as little as seven Turkish Liras per guest from the tour operator, a fee that is supposed to cover their entire overhead. Furthermore, guests who are economically constrained by having already paid a flat fee are unlikely to spend much in local shops and restaurants.
No shopping on tours
"One of our roles is to encourage guests to go on tours. It is really hard work, quite exhausting, in fact," a holiday-tour representative said. "Mostly, they just want to lie by the pool and relax. Some of our outings are sponsored by carpet shops or Turkish-delight factories, so we have to hope guests will buy something so that we can get some commissions. One of the bus trips takes them to Fethiye for shopping. It is fairly popular, but usually the guests do not spend much."
Hotels that do not utilize the all-inclusive system are having a hard time as mass-market operators cut into their income. Some, in an attempt to minimize their losses, search guests’ bags at the entrance to the hotel to make sure they are not sneaking in food and drink; reportedly, even water has been confiscated at the door.
Encouragement and support for independent hotels and self-catering may be an alternative; this way, at least, the money stays in local circulation, but such operations have little chance to compete in a market where the big tour operators call the shots.
Perhaps the solution lies in regulating the number of all-inclusive hotels and supporting independent hotels and guesthouses to help Fethiye move up the scale. This can be achieved over time, but only by changing the way Fethiye is perceived by the kind of tourist that local businesspeople would like to attract. This can be done by highlighting areas that attract quality tourism, targeting tourists with more disposable income.
If such a re-branding of Fethiye does take place, it will be done following the experience of many other Mediterranean countries that have made similar mistakes over the last three decades and have subsequently attempted to re-position themselves higher on the tourism scale. At present, it can all too easily be argued that Fethiye’s tourism industry is unsustainable and economically unviable.
Tourists coming to Fethiye invariably have a wonderful holiday. Turkey is famous for its hospitality, and even with the difficulties now being faced by shopkeepers and other small business owners, it would be hard to find a warmer welcome. But if the worry and anxiety grow with yet another year of plummeting sales, it can only be a matter of time before the cracks begin to show.