As a gateway between East and West, Turkey – and its present Capital of Culture, Istanbul – have been of great significance to travellers for centuries. But as the country’s intellectual centre basks in the world’s gaze, the greater prize of European Union membership remains illusive. BTN examines recent developments in Turkey, and assesses what the future holds.
Capital of Culture
Alongside Essen in Germany and Hungary’s Peç, Istanbul will spend 2010 celebrating as European Capital of Culture.
Already revered as both a historic centre and destination for cultural tourism, the city will hope to use the honour to boost its international profile over the coming months, showcasing the best it has to offer. Among the highlights will be the new Museum of Innocence. Based on a 2008 novel by Turkish Nobel Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk, this poetic tribute to the city uses films, photos and other memorabilia to document culture and daily life in Istanbul from the Fifties to the present day.
For music fans Balkanist – the Balkan Music Festival – will explore the city’s role as a musical focus for the Balkan region in April, while the largest stadium concert in the city’s history will take place on 6 September when U2’s 360-degree 2010 tour rolls into town. On a smaller scale – but no less fascinating – the 99 Qur’ans exhibition will showcase the exquisite calligraphy of the Ottoman Empire, while the Archaeology Museum will stage an exhibition entitled Assyrians in Istanbul.
(Right: Istanbul Skyline)
Outside of these headline events, however, the streets of the city will buzz with almost daily celebrations.
But it is not just Istanbul celebrating at present. Presently outside the Eurozone, Turkey has seen a wave of European visitors arriving across the country over the past two years – all anxious to enjoy the low prices on offer in this premium mid-haul market. According to official statistics there were over 30 million visitors to Turkey last year, up from just ten million a decade earlier, reflecting the country’s rejuvenated lure to international visitors.
So whether it is the winding streets of capital Ankara, the ancient ruins of Ephesus or Troy, or the sun drenched resorts of the Turquoise Coast, Turkey’s tourism industry is set for a boom in 2010.
But while the European Union may offer baubles – such as the title of European Capital of Culture – it has been markedly more reticent in offering Turkey access to the greatest prize of all – membership.
(Right: Leader’s Tower)
Although negotiations have been ongoing for decades – indeed Turkey was a founding member of the European Economic Community in 1959 and has since moved closer through the Ankara Agreement – disagreements over the future of Cyprus, the history of Armenia, political transparency, and the environment have all delayed accession.
However, the potential benefits for the tourism industry in the country are huge.
European visitors represent the biggest sector for Turkey, and their activities have a huge potential to support economic growth and employment in what is still a relatively developing country. There is also the advantage of stronger social ties between the EU and neighbouring Turkey, with ascension offering a very real opportunity to build a social, cultural and economic bridge between the Christian West and Muslim East.
Despite this, the process is likely to be long and arduous. While there is a gathering consensus in favour of Turkey’s eventual membership of the European Union – with France and Germany notably bucking the trend - European Commission president José Manuel Barroso has said the accession process could take at least until 2021.
World Travel Awards
Whatever the outcome of the ongoing negotiations with Brussels, Turkey is already fêted among members of the travel and tourism community, having being selected as host of the World Travel Awards (WTA) European Gala Ceremony later this year.
Taking place on 1 October, the city of Antalya – the tourism capital of Turkey – will host the elite of the Europe’s travel industry and world media, all of whom will be eager to discover who will walk away with the coveted “Oscars of the travel industry”.