Archive for February, 2015

One-on-One with Murat Karakus, Director, Turkish Culture & Tourism Office

murat karakus, turkish tourismThis month, ExpertFlyer talks with Murat Karakus, Director of the Turkish Culture and Tourism Office (TCTO), based in New York City. Murat shares the latest and lauded cultural and tourism attractions from this remarkable ancient country. With the oldest known human settlement in the world, Turkey truly represents the cradle of civilization, and many other achievements, including two of the seven ancient wonders of the world; the birthplace of Homer, St. Paul the Apostle, King Midas, among others — And now this bi-continental land pulses as a leading modern day travel destination with a unique blend of traditions, cultures and beauty.

“Turkey has made giant strides in the past decade by increasing its economy to $US820 billion, making it the 17th largest economy in the world, sixth largest economy compared with EU countries and the sixth most-visited tourist destina-tion in the world behind only France, the United States, China, Spain and Italy.”

– Murat Karakus, director, Turkish Culture & Tourism Office

It’s difficult to know where to start when one wants to discover Turkey. There are few destinations with as many “firsts” and “only” descriptors. Let’s start with some of the most historically significant attributes. What do historians fall in love with and clamor to see when visiting Turkey?

Turkey is considered to be one of the richest and diverse countries in terms of archaeology and is by far the biggest “open air museum” in the world.

A bridge between the East and West, Turkey has been noted by scholars as the “melting pot” of various peoples and where classical culture was shaped.

As you mentioned, from the first known urban city settlement of “Çatalhöyük” to the historically famous Troy and from the Ionians (the Anatolian Greeks) to the greatest empires of the world – the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman – many cultures were established and flourished here.pot”.

Photo: Turkish Culture & Tourism Office

Photo: Turkish Culture & Tourism Office

As a result of this history, Turkey has 13 sites listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, including some of the most famous archaeological sites in the world. Another 52 sites have been submitted to UNESCO for World Heritage Listing for further protection of the country’s archeological treasures. In 2014 alone, a total of 518 archaeological projects were underway in Turkey, including 446 excavations and cleaning works, 36 underwater excavations and 96 archaeological surface surveys.

If I was to select a handful of ruins that really showcase the influence of the various empires that have ruled Turkey, I would suggest the following:

• Hittite Capital “Hattusas”:
Hattusas, the capital of the proud and warlike Hittites from the year 2000 B.C. to the year 1180 B.C. Their empire stretched from the Black Sea to Syria. Excavations have uncovered many impressive ruins of Hittite settlements in Anatolia; fascinating artifacts dating from this period are on display in the Ankara, Anatolian Civilizations Museum.

• The Trojans:
The legendary city of beautiful Helen and the Wooden Horse, archeological excavations have revealed nine separate periods of settlement at this site, including ruins of city walls, house foundations, a temple and a theater. A symbolic wooden Trojan horse remains at the site today, commemorating the legendary war.

• Roman Empire:
Ephesus: As the capital of Roman Asia Minor, Ephesus is still richly endowed with marble temples, mosaics and a 25,000-seat Great Theater. The city, whose wealth and patronage supported its splendid architectural program, was dedicated to the goddess Artemis, and her enormous temple was once considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. St. Paul spoke here, even the Virgin Mary spent her last days here, and ascended to heaven from a neighboring hilltop.

• Byzantine Marvels:
Underground Cistern, which was the water source for both the Grand Palace of the Byzantine Emperors and for the Ottomans’ Topkapi Palace. St. Sophia Museum, the masterpiece of Byzantine architecture. Kariye Museum, the old church of St. Saviour in Chora treasuring the marvelous mosaics and frescoes which represent scenes drawn from, the cycle of the life of the Virgin and of Christ which have been restored under the guidance of the Byzantine Institute of Boston.

• Ottoman Heritage:
Topkapi Palace Museum, covering 172 acres, Topkapi Palace is a vast assemblage of garden-filled courtyards, richly decorated chambers, kiosks, pools and passageways; the Blue Mosque; the most splendid mosque in the city, built in the early 18th century, distinguished by six slender minarets and walls covered with blue Iznik tiles; the Mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent. This is the largest mosque and was built for Suleyman the Magnificent in the 1550’s by the great architect Sinan; Dolmabahçe Palace Built in the mid-19th century by Sultan Abdülmecit which occupies an impressive 2,000-foot waterfront site on the Bosphorus.

Safety is always a concern for travelers flying abroad. There has been unrest in Turkey over the past couple of years. Is it safe to travel to Turkey in 2015? Are there specific areas that are not safe? What should potential visitors know and heed where threats and warnings are concerned?

The majority of travel to Turkey is focused in its west, where Istanbul straddles the bridge between Europe and Asia, and where the Mediterranean and Aegean seas provide the experiences that travelers find go synonymous with traveling through European waters. This is far from the areas that experience regional issues beyond the country’s far eastern borders.

Responsible travelers should always check the official travel advisories of their home country’s relevant government departments. The U.S. Department of State currently has no “Travel Warnings” or “Travel Alerts” issued for Turkey.

Turkey attracted nearly 37 million visitors in 2014 – an increase of more than 5% over the previous year. What is the biggest draw for tourists — what do they come to see and experience when they visit Turkey?

Turkey has made giant strides in the past decade by increasing its economy to $US820 billion, making it the 17th largest economy in the world, sixth largest-economy compared with EU countries and the sixth most-visited tourist destination in the world behind only France, the United States, China, Spain and Italy.

Our country is one of the most diverse destinations in the world, with a richness of history, archeology, unmatched natural beauty and superb gastronomy combined with art and diverse culture that spans the ages yet is at the forefront modern innovation. Few countries have as wide a variety of tourism attractions as Turkey, including – and, perhaps most importantly – its figurative and physical position as a bridge between Eastern and Western cultures that embraces visitors from all corners of the globe.

Only about 2% of Turkey’s tourists are US nationals. Is the TCTO trying to market more directly to US travelers? Many Americans first experience Turkey through a cruise and wish to return. Our marketing efforts encourage Americans to spend a vacation exploring the many attractions and destinations throughout the country. Our tourism landscape is particularly appealing to:

• Families who enjoy a combination of a cultural experience, outdoor activities and miles of beautiful beaches

• Couples from young couples and honeymooners to boomers

• Archeology buffs who explore the matchless ruins throughout the country, ancient palaces and mosques, and matchless museums

• Sportsmen who enjoy the golf, ski areas, yachting, hiking, mountain biking, ballooning.

We have allocated tourism funds and endeavors to create compelling and successful marketing, advertising and PR campaigns in North America. We are also working very closely with our tourism partners, travel agents and tour operators to sell Turkey. We hope this will continue to help increase the number of North American visitors to Turkey in the near future.

When Americans think of travel to Turkey, Istanbul is the place that immediately comes to mind. We educate North American travelers about the exciting diversity of landscapes, attractions and experiences throughout Turkey and encourage them to extend their visits and explore the other fascinating regions, such as: Central Anatolia – Cappadocia, Ankara; Aegean region – Izmir, Kusadasi, Bodrum, Cesme, Mediterranean and Black Sea regions of Turkey.

For first-timers traveling to Turkey, what’s your recommended site-seeing and shopping itinerary?

turkey

Photo: Turkish Tourism and Culture Office

Turkey’s multi-faceted tourism assets appeal to many U.S. travelers, who are particularly interested in Turkey’s history and archaeology, culture, gastronomy and the arts. They also enjoy family travel, resorts and beaches, romance and honeymoons, health/wellness, spas, natural wonders, sports (golf, skiing, yachting, ballooning) and religious travel.

• Istanbul is a fascinating blend of old and new, with some of the most famous ancient palaces and mosques, traditional bazaars and hamams and incredible art and history museums combined with gourmet restaurants and lively nightlife, cruises on the Bosphorus, luxurious hotels, world class spas and trendy boutiques.

• Cappadocia – spectacular natural wonders, cave hotels, underground cities and ancient cliff churches, hot air ballooning; superb cuisine and wineries.

• Ruins near Izmir/Kusadasi including Ephesus, Pergamon, Aphrodisias, Miletus, Didyma, Priene

• Bodrum: To American travelers, the “resort peninsula” that is the Bodrum region might be the best-kept secret in the world. Along with its “sister resort region” of Antalya, Bodrum is one of the most popular “sun and fun” destinations for Turks and foreigners alike, offering luxurious accommodations in a setting that both respects the area’s fishing village past and revels in its jetsetting present. It’s no wonder why Bodrum has been a vacation spot for A-List celebrities such as Tom Hanks, Beyonce Knowles, Sting, Elizabeth Hurley and Nicole Kidman.

turkish cuisine

Photo: Turkish Culture & Tourism Office

• Vibrant cuisine, wines, and nightlife: A fusion of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes, Turkish cuisine is considered among the best in the world featuring Turkish tea, Turkish coffee and the famous Turkish delight found all over the country.

• Shopping: Authentic carpets, rugs, and kilims are tourists’ favorite items for shopping in Turkey, with more artistic features and creativity in Turkish Carpets than any other carpets in the world. Turkey’s capital, Ankara, is home to one of the largest bazaars in the world and Istanbul is known for its Grand Bazaar. More than just carpets, however, Turkey’s bazaars have jewelry, leather goods, pottery, spices and tea. Visitors also enjoy the fashionable boutiques with designer clothing and decorative housewares.

• Sophisticated resorts, miles of beaches and quaint villages along the Aegean, Mediterranean and Black Sea coasts

• Turkey also offers unique experiences such as Turkish Bath and the Whirling Dervishes: Turkey is among the top seven countries in the world and ranks 2nd in Europe with its 1,300 thermal springs. The Turkish bath, or hamam, is the quintessential Turkish experience and is an absolute must to relax. A Turkish Spa is a favorite among tourists as it combines traditional hamam experience with Far Eastern touches like aromatic scents and traditional Turkish massages. The Whirling Dervishes is one of the world’s most intriguing sights, a mesmerizing spectacle of twirling delight.

Where can folks find the best deals and is there a trick to haggling with vendors?

turkey bazaar

Photo: Turkish Tourism and Culture Office

Haggling with vendors is one of the best parts of shopping in Turkey. Some of the top tips to help travelers haggle with respect and get the best deal include:

• First, determine if haggling is appropriate: Are you in a luxury department store or in an outdoor market or bazaar?

• What is it worth to you? An item is only worth what you would pay for it. Discounts don’t mean anything if it’s still more than you want to pay for it.

• Figure out the lowest price: That last amount yelled out as you leave and turn the corner is often the best price you’ll get.

• Obey the rules and don’t hurry: There is no rush to haggling. Bid carefully, if the price is too much, leave and don’t worry about having wasted a merchant’s time. That’s their job and they’re very good at it.

Where do Turkish families vacation in Turkey and what’s your favorite destination?

Turkish families visit Antalya , Bodrum, Izmir and environs. My favorite family vacation place in Turkey is Marmaris.

  • Antalya: Antalya, the Turkish Riviera is the most stunning part of Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. Beautiful beaches, historic ruins and charming old towns make Antalya one of Turkey’s most popular provinces. The region around Antalya offers sights of amazing natural beauty as well as impressive historical remains such as Perge, originally settled by the Hittites around 1500 B.C., the place with the impressive colonnaded street where most of the statues that are on display in the Anatolia Museum were unearthed.; Aspendos that bears one of the best preserved amphitheaters in the world; Demre: Also known as Kale, the ancient city of Myra, is mostly famous for its connection with St. Nicholas, who was bishop here in the 4th century.
  • Izmir: No trip to Turkey is complete without including a visit to Izmir – the perfect hub to enjoy the full range of attractions that lure visitors to Turkey – a cosmopolitan and accessible city, the most spectacular archeological wonders in Turkey, fantastic seaside restaurants, dynamic nightlife, beautiful beaches and a warm Turkish welcome.

Is there anything that you’d like to tell our readers that we haven’t covered in this Q&A?

Traveling to Turkey from the U.S. is easy, Turkish Airlines and Delta Air Lines offer direct flights from the major cities of the U.S.

• Turkish Airlines, “Best Airline in Europe,” currently flies non-stop direct flights from New York, Washington D.C., Los Angles, Chicago, Houston, Boston, Toronto and it will launch a new route from San Francisco to Istanbul beginning April 13, 2015.

• Delta Air Lines will increase the number of seats it offers on the Istanbul and New York, JFK flight for the 2015 summer season.

Green tourism: How to be a “gentle” traveler

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

ExpertFlyer interviewed Marilyn Waite, founder of SustainableVisit.com, a resource for the growing number of sustainable travel enthusiasts who want to support environmentally and socially responsible  businesses in the places they visit.

“There’s been a lack of consolidated, practical and worldwide information on sustainable travel,” says Waite.  “Travelers with the best intentions do not know where to eat, where to stay, how to commute and what activities to take part in that contribute to sustainable development.  Responsible tourists, eco-tourists and tourists who simply do not want to do harm to the local population do not have useful information when they need it, where they need it.”

Watch our interview with Marilyn and read her checklist for getting started as a gentle traveler:

5 types of sustainable travelersThe Gentle Traveler’s Checklist

Before you travel you should…

  • Do your Research
    • Learn about the destinations unique cultural aspects (history, language, government, arts)
    • Get smart about the practical things, like currency, infrastructure, emergency safety
  • Learn (some of) the Local Language
    • Start with Hello, Goodbye, and Thank You. These three little phrases go a long way toward ingratiating you in the eyes of the locals
    • Learn how to say “Excuse me, Can you speak English?” in the local language
  • Know the Tourist Climate
    • How do locals feel about tourists and why?
    • How important is tourism to the local economy?
    • How can you visit sustainably?

During your stay you should…

  • Report signs of human trafficking and abuse
  • Use less water and electricity
  • Respect the environment and people
  • Use low carbon transportation, in order:
    • Walking > Cycling > Mass Transportation
  • Buy local
    • Fair trade, seasonal, organic
  • Participate in the community

When you return home you should…

  • Share your experience with friends and family
    • If you use social media, share your experience and photos
    • Write a guest blog on travel websites (We welcome new bloggers on SustainableVisit.com)
    • Comment on travel suggestions that you greatly appreciated on forums
    • Submit a new suggestion for a sustainable restaurant, activity, attraction, hotel, and more on SustainableVisit.com
    • Plan your next destination!

Top Destinations for 2015

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

In our last installment, we featured travel trends presented at the New York Times Travel Show by travel gurus, Arthur and Pauline Frommer.  This post will list the Frommers’ top destination picks for 2015, as presented at the show in January.

top destinations 2015

  1. Belize – This tropical oasis has all of the trappings of Costa Rica plus family friendly cultural attractions, including Mayan Temples and underwater caves lined with ancient skulls
  2. Belgium – With the US dollar gaining strength, it’s an opportune time to visit Europe and Belgium, in particular.  There are many celebrations and anniversaries happening this year, including the 125th anniversary of Van Gogh’s death, as well as the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo
  3. South Dakota – While the 100th anniversary of the building of Mount Rushmore isn’t until 2016, if you’re thinking of taking a trip to the home of the Badlands, you’ll beat crazy crowds if you visit in 2015
  4. Tanzania –  Africa’s tourism market has seen a rapid decline since the Ebola crisis has created mass hysteria among Westerners.  The virus is contained in only a small region in West Africa – far from Tanzania.  The African government is offering super low travel packages to offset the slump.  Some travel companies are offering all-inclusive safari vacations with airfare for as little as $1,200
  5. Asheville, NC – This is a hip and trendy destination that has gone from gritty to great after being revitalized.  Accent on the Smoky Mountains and charming B+Bs
  6. Chaco National Historic Park – Located in New Mexico, the Frommers urge folks to visit ruins of the ancient Pueblo people in this park before fracking destabilizes the archaelogy
  7. Pompidou Center – Located in Malaga, Spain, this area has also been transformed from an industrial district to a thing of beauty and culture
  8. Argentina – If you’re looking for a cheap unforgettable vacation, visit Patagonia this year.  The currency has been cut in half for US travelers
  9. Austria – The hills are alive with the sound of music! And there will be plenty to see, do and celebrate around the 50th anniversary of the Sound of Music
  10. Yellowstone Park – Lots of geothermal activity expected this year, along with the usual breathtaking vistas, flora and fauna
  11. Washington D.C. – 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln
  12. Cruise with Cunard – Cunard, a top luxury cruise liner, celebrates its 175th anniversary with special onboard lectures and performances
  13. London – Long live the Queen! Queen Elizabeth reigns supreme this year as the longest reigning monarch in history — and there will be plenty of special events and promotions to celebrate.  Oh and the Tube expands operation to 24/7, so you can get around underground with no traffic.
  14. Vietnam – Dong Van Karst Plateau geo-park for unforgettably spectacular mountain scenery.

Happy Travels!

 

 

The Frommers Name Top Travel Trends for 2015 at NY Times Travel Show

New York Times Travel ShowBaby, it may have been cold and grey outside, but the recent New York Times Travel show at New York’s Javits Center offered respite from the chill with dreams of colorful, temperate and far off environs.

arthur and pauline frommerExpertFlyer was on hand to visit with exhibitors and attend seminars presented by venerated travel experts and guide publishers, Arthur and Pauline Frommer. Here’s a cheat sheet on the travel trends and top destinations they recommend for 2015.

Now that travel restrictions have been relaxed, Cuba is the talk of the town for2015.  Experts are advising to get packing quickly before over commercialization overtakes the beauty and nostalgia of this island frozen in time.

If you’re thinking about making the trek, the Frommers recommend some accommodation options:

There are also a number of travel service providers who are quickly expanding their offerings or specializing in Cuban travel, including SmarTours.com and CubaTravelServices.com.

surging US dollar good for travel

There was buzz about the surging US dollar and the benefit that it will offer international travelers, particularly those traveling to Europe and Latin American destinations, like Argentina.

Hotel chains are upping their game this year, including sophisticated technology enhancements that allow your smartphone to open doors, as well as track your purchasing habits for dynamic pricing and targeted promotions — good and bad. Now’s a good time to join hotel loyalty programs, too, as perks will include free wi-fi and room upgrades.

In our next installment we’ll count down the top 14 travel spots to consider this year.

Happy Travels!