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Turkey

It's Not Just Security Driving Turkey's Ebbing Tourism

What were once quaint and distinguishable summer beach towns have become Disneyfied versions of themselves, identical places to buy knockoff brands and chain store coffee.

Market in Gaziantep, Turkey
Market in Gaziantep, Turkey
Melike Karakartal

-OpEd-

ISTANBUL — The number of foreign visitors to Turkey fell in the first half of this year, and the outlook for the rest of 2015 looks gloomy amid heightened security risks that have diminished tourists' appetite for visiting. But as it this weren't bad enough, we're also sabotaging ourselves.

Turkey's small beach towns were once jewels of the country, attracting people the world over who enjoyed the quaint and unspoiled experience of simple summer life here: local food, traditional teahouses, small artisan shops, historical sites and breathtaking nature all around.

But today, Turkey's beach towns are discouragingly indistinguishable, the streets in one virtually identical to those of the next. Each town invariably has a colorful store selling poor-quality knockoff shirts by "famous" international brands. Just down the way you can count on an electronics shop with imitation accessories of popular global brands. Visit central Bodrum, Marmaris, Alanya or Antalya, and your shopping selections are all identical. But who wants to travel to Turkey for crappy earphones and cheap handbags?

There are also the charmless food stores emitting vapor from the water in which sausage is boiled day and night. Cheap yellow cheese and greasy grilled meat are ubiquitous. The odors are vile.

But that's not all. Travelers who want to see interesting stores selling local artisanal products are out of luck. What Turkey offers instead are local branches of perfume chains that can be found in Paris or Dubai, familiar ice cream chains, supermarket chains and even coffee shop chains. They have invaded the small summer tourist towns because only then can visitors eat and drink exactly what's offered in virtually every city around the world.

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World-famous Turkish coffee losing the battle — Photo: leila.a

If you were to be instantly teleported to a random street in Bodrum, Marmaris, Alanya or Cesme, you quite literally wouldn't be able to guess where you were.

Mesmerized by money and seduced by major franchises, these towns have lost what made them special to begin with and have become like all the others. Then when people start to visit the smaller, untouched or more thoughtfully preserved places instead, all too often they too evolve into mere contrivances, Disney versions of the real thing with counterfeit Gucci products and Starbucks coffee.

No wonder tourism in Turkey is suffering. As if there aren't enough domestic and regional geopolitical events to dissuade travelers from visiting, we willfully and short-sightedly diminish our assets by taking this approach. Who would want to spend time at places like this? Service is bad, prices are high, the aesthetics suffer and vendors are often dishonest. Rich tourists and people with taste aren't interested in this kind of atmosphere.

Turkey's tourism is crying, and it's going to cry a lot more if this outdoor-shopping-mall style tourism strategy persists.

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