The Supply and Demand for Thermal Tourism in Turkey
The most important reason for the attractiveness of thermal tourism is the rich minerals in the geothermal waters. Visitors who used to visit Turkish hamams (baths) as a tradition and subsequently spas and baths for treatment purposes still like these venues but prefer the more developed and modern facilities in recent years. This is why Smith and Kelly (2006) refer to the increase in demand for thermal tourism in recent years as a “return to the past."
Thermal tourism activities in Turkey used to be carried out traditionally in spas, while nowadays they are carried out in more modern and high-quality facilities. In fact, geothermal waters are brought from far away to places with a low potential for geothermal water for the purpose of investing in thermal waters. The increasing number of thermal tourism operations in the developed tourism centers of Antalya and Mugla which developed based on the sea-sun-sand trinity is the most significant indicator of this. The tourist profile, which has started to change in recent years, steers tourism operations to invest in line with the demands of the tourists. The fact that the state provides incentives for thermal tourism is an important factor in the increasing number of these facilities. As indicated in the Thermal Tourism Master Plan, thermal tourism has the following advantages:
The increase in investments regarding thermal tourism in Turkey is particularly evident after 2007. While the number of certified tourism investments subjected to the inspection of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism was 10, with a bed capacity of 6369 in 2008, this number increased to 36 and 18,484, respectively, in 2014. In Turkey’s tourism statistics, tourism operation certified facilities are more significant than investment certified facilities. The reason for this is that tourism operation certified facilities operate actively and are used by tourists as accommodation facilities. Tourism investment certified facilities, on the other hand, have received permission from the ministry to invest or they are in the construction phase and not yet ready to accommodate tourists as tourism facilities. Therefore, in assessing the current status of thermal tourism facilities, it is more appropriate to use data pertaining to tourism operation certified facilities. Accordingly, while in 2008 there were 13 tourism operation certified facilities in Turkey, with a bed capacity of 3049, by 2014 a significant increase had incurred in both the number of facilities and the bed capacity. While the number of facilities has reached 63, the number of beds has reached 20,746. During the 7-year process starting with 2008, the increase in the number of facilities has reached 385 %, while bed capacity has increased even more to a total 580 % (Table 7.1). When the increase rates of other tourism facilities such as hotels, motels, holiday villages, and thermal facilities are compared, the change in terms of thermal tourism facilities becomes more evident. For example, during 2008-2014, the increase in the number of hotels with tourism operation certified facilities and that of bed capacities were 16 and 41 %, respectively. The total increase in Turkey during the past 7 years for tourism operation certified facilities is 22 % for the number of facilities and 42 % for bed capacity.
These data show that investment in thermal tourism in Turkey has increased significantly and is also an indicator that the importance given to thermal tourism has increased. The thermal tourism facilities are concentrated in the provinces of Afyonkarahisar, Ankara, Balikesir, Bursa, Denizli, Izmir, Nev^ehir, and Yalova
Table 7.1 The number of thermal hotels in Turkey (2008-2014)
(Fig. 7.1). A look at the locations of the provinces where thermal facilities are concentrated in Turkey reveals that these provinces are situated over major fault zones in Turkey.
A look at the demand for thermal tourism in Turkey reveals that there is a continuing increase in this regard similar to the increase in tourism investments. It will be more appropriate to assess the data regarding tourists preferring thermal tourism as of 2010. The reason for this is that the Ministry of Culture and Tourism separated the data for thermal hotel classifications as of 2010. A look at the number of visitors to tourism operation certified facilities inspected by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in 2010 shows a significant increase in the number of both foreign and local tourists. While the number of foreign tourists was 302,725 and the
Fig. 7.1 Thermal tourism regions in Turkey number of local tourists was 457,909 in 2010, in 2014 the number of foreign tourists had increased to 552,052 and the number of local tourists to 1,006,252. In the 5-year interval, the number of foreign tourists visiting thermal facilities had increased by 83 %, while the number of local tourists had increased by 119 % (Table 7.2). While the average length of stay in thermal facilities was approximately 1.8, the occupancy rate was about 40 %.
During the same period, there was an increase of 58 % in the number of foreign tourists staying at 5-star hotels, while the number of local tourists increased by 57 %. During the passing 5 years, the total number of foreign tourists increased by 64 % and the total number of local tourists increased by 42 %. Therefore, the demand for thermal tourism is over the average in Turkey.
According to these data, a significant increase in the demand for thermal tourism has incurred in Turkey in recent years particularly on the part of foreign tourists. Foreign tourists coming to Turkey are mainly from Japan, Germany, South Korea, France, the USA, and the People’s Republic of China (Fig. 7.2). The impact of thermal tourism is particularly evident in the increasing share of Far Eastern countries on the tourism market of Turkey.
The increase in the number of high-quality thermal tourism facilities has had a major impact on the rising demand for thermal tourism both domestically and from abroad. In addition to the traditional baths, thermal tourism offers healing therapy, spa therapy, balneotherapy, inhalation applications, peloid therapy (mud baths), medical treatment, thalassotherapy (pool therapy), physical therapy and rehabilitation, health education, diet applications, regulation of daily activities, behavioral change training, and other supportive applications such as psychological support methods. The applications are carried out according to the recommendations of the specialists at these centers.
The Tourism Strategy 2023 and the Action Plan 2007-2013 for Turkey have established a strategy to determine the potential and, subsequently, maximize the demand for thermal tourism in Turkey. In the first phase of the Thermal Tourism Master Plan (2007-2023), four zones were established, and in the second phase, the thermal tourism potential for the whole country was assessed by the declaration of tourism centers based on the experiences in these zones and by the preparation of an environmental plan for these zones on a scale of 1/25,000. According to this plan, the target for Turkey is to become the most important health and thermal destination in the world with a bed capacity of 100,000 and 500,000 commissioned for operation in 2017 and 2023, respectively.
Furthermore, the Tourism Specialist Commission Report prepared within the framework of the Tenth Development Plan covering the period between 2014 and 2018 emphasized the importance of the external promotion of thermal tourism which is displaying a rapid development trend in the world and increasing the demand on the relevant tourism market, expanding tourism investments to areas which have not been exploited in terms of thermal tourism, as well as diversifying tourism and spreading tourism activities throughout the year. In recent years, in particular investments in thermal tourism have been declared within the framework of the Tourism Initiative Law and these investments have increased in the ongoing
Table 7.2 The number of arrivals, nights spent, average length of stay, and occupancy rates for thermal hotels in Turkey (2009-2014)
Fig. 7.2 Distribution of international tourists in the thermal hotels in Turkey by their home countries (2014)
thermal-oriented thermal culture and tourism conservation and development zones as well as the 73 areas planned as thermal tourism centers. Furthermore, the number of traditional bath operations in some areas outside the scope of the Thermal Tourism Master Plan is increasing, while some baths are being restored which will ensure an increase mainly in domestic tourism activity.