Turkey’s tourism was previously limited to popular destinations such as Istanbul, İzmir, and the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts, but now the eastern parts of Turkey are becoming the focus of foreign tourists. The Van province, located in southeastern Turkey, is experiencing the golden age in tourism as a result of this interest. Last year, the number of Iranian tourists visiting the city increased from 238,000 to 338,161 during a nine-and-a-half-month period, which was the highest it has ever been. It is expected that this figure will be over 450,000 by the end 2017.
Van, the commercial door between Turkey and Iran
Van, a city of civilizations where history and nature intertwine, has started to make its mark in the growing Turkish tourism market. One of the most important reasons for this is the work carried out in order to improve the economic, cultural and social relations between Turkey and Iran.
Necdet Takva, chairman of the Van Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Van TSO), said that the Iranian market played an important role in local development of the region and that since 2013, work has been done to improve commercial ties with Iran. The Van TSO chairman said that tourism and trade were both important, and therefore projects to develop the accommodation sector were jointly implemented. He added that they first visited Iranian Ambassador to Ankara Ali Reza Bıkdeli at his office, and discussed removing trade restrictions for the development of bilateral relations with Iran, and the importance of Iran for Van merchants and tradesmen.
Van Shopping Fest lauded
Van Shopping Fest, which was launched in 2015, has been well received by Iranians. The Iranians who come during this period contribute to the development of Van’s trade and accommodation. Accommodation occupancy rates reach full capacity during festivals and other periods, and TSO President Takva says that the average occupancy rate with does not drop below 80 percent with tourist visits.
During a visit to Iran by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan this year, investors started to search for ways to optimize the opportunity presented by renewed movement in the tourism sector as a result of the decisions taken to improve relations between the two countries. This vibrancy has revealed the need for new tourism investments in Van. Publicity projects in countries like Georgia and Azerbaijan have also turned into an opportunity for those investing in Van. Businessmen who want to invest in Van have started to investigate the region and negotiate with regional authorities to find out what the best investment will be.
Van, the city of the sun
Van, one of the best places in Turkey to watch the sunset, is a hidden city that takes its name from Tushba (the city of the sun), which was the capital of the Urartu Kingdom. It is a region waiting to be discovered. The projects conducted to ensure the discovery of this city are gradually starting to come to fruition. Of course it is necessary to acknowledge the fact that it is not always enough for a location to have a very historical infrastructure or the best beaches to become a tourism destination.
The tourism phenomenon is gaining importance with economic, social, cultural and environmental factors. One of the most important factors is the interaction between tourists and locals. It is important for locals to be ready for this, especially in cultural and social terms. It is also important for the local tradesmen to respond to the needs of tourists in economic terms. Entrepreneurs investing in the region say that the legislation surrounding investments must also be considered. This is because the Coastal Law, which is implemented around Van Lake, can affect tourism investments. The reevaluation of the coasts with today's technology and the redetection of tourism areas can provide assurance for tourism investors. Considering that the region will develop together with tourism, it is very important to develop tourism in a planned way.
Over 80 pct of Iranian tourists prefer Van
In order to understand the tourists coming to Van and meet the expectations and resolve the problems encountered better, the Department of Sociology of the Yüzüncü Yıl University, the Van Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Eastern Anatolia Development Agency conducted a research last year. It was discovered that 60.5 percent of Iranian tourists visiting and staying in Van were between 18 and 35 years old.
When asked why they chose to visit Van, 40.1 percent of participants said it was because it was “close,” 16.2 percent said it was because products and services were “cheap” and 23.3 percent said it was because Van was a cheap and reliable city near Iran. The survey also found that of the 80.5 percent of Iranian tourists who prefer Van, only 19.5 percent preferred Van because they could not go anywhere else.
The work carried out for the promotion of Van is going on throughout the year. Van Provincial Culture and Tourism Director Muzaffer Altuğ hailed many of Van’s touristic sites renowned for their deep-rooted history and natural beauty, including the Van Lake, Van Castle, Akdamar Island, and Muradiye Waterfall. Altuğ also drew attention to Van’s cats, which are an esteemed feline breed, and Van’s breakfasts, which have entered the Guinness Book of World Records.
Located 45 minutes from Iran’s border
Muzaffer Altuğ believes Van’s “location, which is 45 minutes from Iran’s border, its adequate shopping centers and shops and the sufficient meeting of needs,” are the reasons why Iranians prefer Van, adding that the province’s airport is used as a transfer center.
Iran has a special place in Van’s promotional material. Exhibitions, the Iran-Van film festival, and concerts are organized in line with Van-Iran artistic activities. Altuğ reminds us of the days when Van was promoted as part of Turkey campaign days in Los Angeles. Altuğ also stated that it is important to list Akdamar Island and Church, and Van Castle on the temporary list of UNESCO World Heritage sites for publicity. He also added that various tourism agencies invite those from Iran’s Khoy, Urmia and Tabriz provinces to Van during the annual Tourism Week.
Hotel occupancy rates reach 100 percent
Altuğ said that the steps taken for the development of relations with Iran and the promotional activities carried out increased the interest of the neighboring country's citizens in Turkey and Van, adding, "A great increase in the number of Iranian tourists visiting Van was achieved with the provision of peace and confidence in the region. The arriving Iranians did lots of shopping, increasing activity in the city. With our hotels operating at 100 percent occupancy rates and thus entering into the hot money market; restaurants, agencies, apparel and many other sectors gain profit from this business, which provides a great contribution to our economy."
Last year, the number of Iranian tourists visiting the city increased from 238,000 to 338,161 during a nine-and-a-half month period, which was the highest it has ever been. It is expected that this figure will exceed 450,000 by the end of 2017.