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CBT as ‘Alternative Tourism’

A key factor which has gone hand-in-hand with and enabled the successful development of such high levels of local community participation in Goreme’s tourism is the predominance of independent tourists visiting and staying in Goreme township. The majority of tourists visiting the Goreme Open-Air Museum, two kilometres from the township, are international tourists visiting Cappadocia on cultural package tours and, as it was explained above, those organised tour groups tend to stay in the larger hotels in nearby towns such as Urgup and Nevsehir, which are outside of the National Park boundary. In contrast, most tourists staying in Goreme township and using the tourism services there are travelling independently of packaged tour groups. They make their own bookings, either prior to arrival or by, after their arrival, looking around town in order to decide which services and activities to choose.

Whilst the number of domestic visitors to Goreme has grown in recent years, the tourists staying in Goreme township have continued to mainly be international tourists. During the 1980s and 1990s, most of Goreme’s tourists were international ‘backpackers’, doing a circuit around Turkey by bus and following the travel ‘advice’ of a guidebook such as Lonely Planet or Rough Guide. Of course, increasing numbers of travellers now search for information and make bookings via the Internet, and many of Goreme’s tourists now fly into the region via the two regional airports which have multiple direct flights to and from Istanbul daily. Whether the tourists book their accommodation in advance via the Internet or they arrange their accommodation by going into the Accommodation Office upon arrival, the pansiyon accommodation and available activities on offer in Goreme fit perfectly with these tourists’ expectations for various reasons (Tucker 2009). Firstly, the majority of businesses are small-scale and so allow tourists to indulge in the idea that they are not participating in ‘mass’ or ‘conventional’ tourist activity (Tucker 2009). They also allow tourists to meet with other like-minded travellers to swap tales of their travels and to experience an important sense of community in their travelling.

In addition, since most of the pansiyons and boutique hotels, as many of the earlier pansiyons have now become, have been established in converted cave-houses, GOreme’s tourist accommodation establishments are experienced as suitably ‘alternative’ and ‘vernacular’ in relation to place. Most importantly, also, the small-scale size of the establishments relative to the majority of ‘conventional’ hotel accommodation allows for close unmediated contact between hosts and guests, which provides tourists with experiences of local identity and a sense of being ‘hosted’ in the local community’s homes.

This was particularly the case in the 1980s and 1990s when the relatively informal character of Goreme’s earlier tourism businesses placed the Goreme men firmly in a position of ‘hosts’ to their tourist ‘guests’ (Tucker 2003). With fewer restaurants and tour agencies in the township at that time, pansiyons were the main centres of tourists’ entertainment, and the pansiyon owners were the main providers of that entertainment; serving meals, guiding on walks and trips in their cars, and singing Turkish folk songs when the tourists gathered in the evenings. Whilst many of the accommodation establishments in Goreme have become more formal in recent years, and some more successful owners have appointed a manager to run their business thereby removing some of the sense of their being ‘hosts’ to their tourist ‘guests’, most of the pansiyons and hotels are still relatively small and allow for a high level of ‘alternative’ experiences with and amongst the local community.

Much of this experience and interaction concerns hosts directing their guests towards particular services and tourist activities in and around Goreme, be it a particular restaurant or an ‘adventure activity’. In the earlier years of Goreme’s tourism, these other activities included taking day trips to other parts of Cappadocia, as well as horse-riding trips and renting motorbikes in order to travel independently to villages, towns and historic sites away from Goreme. Nowadays, hot-air ballooning has become big tourism business in and around Goreme, as well as four-wheel bike (ATV) tours and also walking and mountain-biking tours. Apart from hot-air ballooning, the majority of these other services also are owned and operated by Goreme people and so still involve a high degree of local community participation, control and benefit. In the case of hot-air ballooning, whilst many local people are employed in the ballooning industry, the majority of these companies are owned and managed by exogenous players. It can be said that the rapid growth of the hot-air ballooning industry in the Cappadocia region has changed the face of tourism there quite substantially in recent years (Tucker 2010).

Indeed, whilst the levels of local community ownership and participation in tourism are still very high, the form of tourism there has become gradually less ‘alternative’ as tourism has continued to develop. Since the beginning of Goreme township’s tourism development, ‘independent travellers’ have been the predominant tourist market there. The earlier iteration of this market was ‘backpacker’ tourism, which allowed local ownership to develop because it required little capital investment. Therefore, with tourism decision-making largely in the hands of a locally-elected council, and tourism business ownership and employment largely in the hands of Goreme people, this ‘alternative’ ‘backpacker’ form of tourism went hand-in-hand with community-based tourism development. Gradually over the past 30 years, however, the tourist market staying in Goreme has matured to a higher level of independent tourist market, bringing in turn higher economic gains to the local community. With many of the pansiyon establishments having become highly successful, they have grown larger in size and consequently have employed management and staff who are from outside of Goreme township. Whilst the establishments are still locally owned, therefore, the ‘alternative’ experience of host- guest interaction between tourists and local people takes place to a lesser extent now than previously.

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