A survey conducted in China by the İstanbul Chamber of Commerce (İTO) suggests that in order for Turkey to increase its share in the Far Eastern country’s immense tourism market visas fees should be reduced and the number of Turkish consulates should increase to make it easier for Chinese nationals to apply and obtain a visa for Turkey.
In a recent publication titled “Developing the Chinese Tourism Market and Turkey,” the İTO provides a thorough analysis of what needs to be done in order to obtain a greater share of the increasingly growing potential of Chinese tourism. The chamber also conducted a survey of 5,579 individuals in China to better understand the preferences of Chinese tourists.
Turkey has significantly expanded its revenues from tourism and almost doubled the number of inbound travelers every three years since 1980. Thirty years ago, less than 1.5 million foreigners visited Turkey, whereas their number grew to over 26 million in 2008, 84 percent of which came from Europe; China took only a minor share, at 0.2 percent, or roughly 61,000 visitors, according to Turkish Association of Travel Agents (TÜRSAB). Of the European countries that the Chinese visited the most in 2008, Turkey did not even place in the top five, which were, in order for the same year, Italy, Germany, the UK, Switzerland and France.
In terms of expenditures by Chinese nationals when traveling, however, China was in the first five globally with $29.8 billion in 2007, according to the most recent data from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). It is no wonder that Chinese tourists are becoming a target market for top tourist destinations, including Turkey. What is even more encouraging, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), is that Chinese gross domestic product (GDP) will more than quadruple last year’s value and reach over $21 trillion by 2020, a huge increase that is expected to influence Chinese tourists’ expenditures as well.
One of the other dramatic changes in trends in Chinese tourism is an increase in travel to foreign countries more for pleasure, rather than business. Whereas in 1995, 59 percent of the visits Chinese made abroad were for professional reasons, 83 percent of those visits in 2007 was made for vacations, which directly confirms the rising trend in the amount Chinese tourists spend abroad.
The İTO survey revealed that Turkey’s visa application process for Chinese nationals could be one of the factors that keep the number of tourists from that country low, especially given that almost 85 percent of the interviewees said the visa process was an important factor for them. Turkey is currently charging $117 for each tourist visa application, which can only be obtained in Beijing and Shanghai. What is worse is that individuals do not have the right to apply for a tourist visa but need to be part of a group of five or more, according to an agreement signed between Turkey and China in 2002.
The finding suggests that in order to have effective results, Turkey should consider making individual visa applications easier, reducing visa fees and, certainly, increasing its number of diplomatic and consular missions in the country.
Giant potential ahead
Once, however, the necessary steps are taken to ease visa applications for Chinese nationals and when Turkey begins to advertise itself more effectively in the country, the prospects for attracting more tourists from the Far East seem high, according to the survey.
Though only a small margin, 5.7 percent, of all respondents had visited Turkey before, all of those who had visited said they wanted to come again. This figure makes it clear that while Chinese tourists do enjoy Turkey, the main challenge is convincing them to visit in the first place. It is also promising that the survey showed that 96 percent of respondents said they wanted to come see Turkey; it also showed that Turkish officials also have some responsibility as almost 64 percent said they did not have sufficient information about the country. Turkey was the ninth most visited tourist destination all over the world, with 22.2 million tourists in 2007, according to the UNWTO, which also stated that the largest center of attraction was France, drawing 81.9 million tourists in the same year.