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Global and Turkish Nature-Based Tourism

As nature-based tourism is a rapidly developing phenomenon throughout the world (Akama 1996), it is often one of the more profitable and buoyant parts of the economy for developing and wealthy countries alike. For example, nature-based tourism in Kenya accounts for 25 % of the country’s total tourism income (Korir et al. 2013). Alongside developing countries (e.g. Kenya, Brazil, Indonesia, and Tanzania), prosperous countries such as the USA, Austria, and New Zealand are the champions of nature-based tourism, each receiving more than 5 million visitors each year. In examining the development of nature-based tourism in these countries, Ozgfif (1998) found that local authorities used protected areas as they key to developing alternative tourism strategies.

Turkey’s 2023 tourism development strategy emphasised that nature-based tourism needs to be developed in various parts of the country (MoCaT 2007). It is widely acknowledged that Turkey, as a country in the Mediterranean basin with beautiful and sandy beaches, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. However, in order to pursue a policy of diminishing regional differences, the country has decided to launch its development strategy on alternative tourism sectors in a less developed part of the country. As a result, the eastern part of the Black Sea region was designated a key area for the development of nature-based tourism, with particular emphasis placed on ‘Yayla’ tourism. Yayla culture has been thriving since as early as the tenth century, reflecting the rural Turkish tradition of changing settlements every six months, a result of economic reliance on pasturing and keeping livestock. However, people’s activities vary depending on location. For instance, while people in the Mediterranean region tend to go to the Yayla in the summer, the inhabitants of the Black Sea region do so in the late spring. The Yayla is a rustic place which offers an escape from the hectic lifestyle of the modern world.

While the Black Sea region is the area in which such activities are focused, ‘Yayla’-oriented tourist activities are also occasionally offered elsewhere in the country. For example, Efe et al. (2015) indicate that the Aegean region also possesses cultural and historical heritage examples which date back to man’s prehistoric era. Similarly, Toroglu et al. ( 2015a, b) have described cases of Yayla tourism where activities are principally based on recreation in the Mediterranean region. This is a result of the fact that summers are extremely hot in the Mediterranean region, causing discomfort to inhabitants.

In this manner, while most Yayla in Turkey are principally used for cultural and economic activities, very few Yayla in the Black Sea and Mediterranean regions have officially been designated as ‘tourism centres’ by the government. The practice of official designation was brought into law in the mid-1990s and initially encouraged entrepreneurs to invest in tourism centres which were set up to improve the quality of nature-based tourism activities. Nevertheless, the vast majority of Yaylas across the country are still only used for recreational and economic activities and are not officially designated as tourist centres (see Fig. 5.1).

Principal activities in the Yayla include grazing livestock, relaxing, and gardening, with a caveat that this varies from region to region. For instance, Black Sea locals primarily keep cattle, while highland pastures in the Mediterranean and Aegean regions are predominantly used for grazing sheep. Given that flourishing rural tourism in ‘Western’ countries is closely associated with legally protected areas, nature-based Yayla tourism features in only one national park in Turkey, namely Kackar National Park, where activities such as heli-skiing, rafting, and scrambling are available to visitors.

While the economic potential of Yayla is always important for locals, culture, rituals, and artefacts are also helpful in sustaining the society’s cultural heritage. In many cases, a Yayla has its very own festival season of various cultural and culinary activities. For example, despite contrary views of animal right activist, camel and bull wrestling and horse racing, which take place towards the end of the season, are some of the most enjoyable touristic attractions of the Yayla festivals. Events like these not only are for the enjoyment of locals, but also act as points of reunification for people who are living on the other side of country, as well as Turkish expats missing their homeland’s culture and family-oriented lifestyle.

As a response to the emphasis placed by the central government on the development of alternative tourism across Turkey, the following section will present two case studies of Yayla tourism in Turkey.

The distribution of Yaylas in Turkey (by provinces)

Fig. 5.1 The distribution of Yaylas in Turkey (by provinces)

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