Just last year the city was voted one of the 20 Best Cities in the World according to Conde Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards 2017, and came first in The Telegraph readers’ 30 favourite cities.
But look at the other cities on those lists … I can think of negative events and crises that have occurred in every one of them.
Can you guess which of those cities had various governments issuing a travel advisories regarding protests and rallies, and mentioning pickpocketing and purse snatching, muggings, assaults and sexual assaults, drugs administered through drinks, reckless driving, perilous road conditions and high traffic congestion, crime at ATMs, scams, and warning that “Terrorism is likely …”
These warnings were for travellers going to Istanbul. And the Turkish government was so incensed at the US travel advisory that they issued their own tit-for-tit warnings regarding travel to the States. And the Turks’ warnings were 100% valid.
It just goes to show: all countries are vulnerable to perception and Turkey, having seen visitor numbers plunge after the terror attacks and political instability, knows better than most how perception can affect tourism.
Yet in the past four years, Turkey has managed to stage a remarkable tourism recovery.
From a peak of 42-million foreign travellers in 2014, tourism declined to 36.24-million arrivals in 2015 to reach a low of 25.35-million arrivals in 2016. But 2017 marked a U-turn with arrivals growing again by 28% to 32.41-million.
Turkey’s Minister of Culture and Tourism said in early 2018, “Our tourism faced two difficult years due to political instability and violent events, but this time is now behind us… We predict that this year, we could record 38-million international arrivals generating US$30bn in tourism revenues.”
How did they turn travellers’ perceptions around? They positioned the country as “a perfect destination for holidaymakers looking for culture, ethnic diversity, beautiful beaches, excellent gastronomy and a good value for money” … as “a natural gateway” to other countries and as a land of “incredible variety”: a variety of cultures, religions, ethnicity and an unmatched diversity of landscapes. Know another country that could be described in the same way? Yes: South Africa.
Most importantly, they have pumped the good news that tourists are returning. The smallest amount of research will show that the same message comes up, again, and again: In articles published by Reuters, Bloomberg, the Independent, the Financial Times, the Guardian … in the last six months they’ve all run articles with headlines saying, “Turkey is popular again with tourists”.
And the sources singing the same tune are diverse: the articles draw on press releases from tour operators and the Turkish hotel federation, they quote hotel managers, the association of Turkish travel agencies, local government officials, and the minister mentioned previously. All speak with one voice, all deliver the same message. There is no way this is not a coordinated marketing effort.
No doubt the work for Turkey’s tourism sector will continue – the country is not without its challenges. But which country is? And Turkey now has a well-established framework for response and collaboration to deal with this.
Perhaps there’s not a lot we as tourism industry practitioners can do to affect socio-economic conditions beyond continuing to be an important employer and lobbying government for the changes needed. But there is much we can do to change perceptions… And we need to do it together.
Even peripheral industries can be co-opted — retail and entertainment players, for example, also benefit from tourism and should be part of the effort. New York is another city that had to work hard to draw tourists back. One of the ways they did that was co-opting peripheral players onto NYC tourist-attraction committees. These are still composed of members from a range of industries, including the arts, retail, restaurants, and entertainment.
Without collaboration, a crisis can affect an entire nation, and even a continent. We only have to look to Ebola, which had a dire effect on the destination reputations of all African countries, including a tourism decline of slightly less than 60% in South Africa with over half Cape Town’s tourism stakeholders reporting significant booking cancellations. This despite the fact that more people died in the US of Ebola than in South Africa, and that Madrid was far closer to the Ebola zone than Cape Town.
Strengthening lines for quick reaction and collaboration across cities, regions and even between countries is vital to safe-guard – and improve – our destination reputation.
I am convinced that crisis management comes down to constant scenario mapping, and careful planning. Weaving these networks of collaboration is an important part of that planning. They can be an extremely effective tool for recovery after a crisis. But even more important, when the next crisis strikes, you have an established network for crisis comms and collaboration.