Turkey lures visitors with historical appeal

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A trip to Turkey may not provide the same off-the-beaten-path experience as a safari in Botswana or a hike in Machu Picchu. But as the economy booms and baby boomers are more adventurous, Turkey continues to pitch to well-off Americans with a message that it offers more than museums and monuments.

The country's tourism suffered a setback last year when a devastating earthquake hit near Istanbul. Thus this year's marketing message stays in line with past campaigns, and isn't centered on luxury hotels or exquisite dining. Instead, it focuses on Turkish history and culture, which are used to differentiate the country from other more frequently traveled European nations.

MORE THAN PARIS

The typical Turkish visitor has been to London and Paris in style and is looking for something more, perhaps an experience with a non-Western flavor.

"We don't go out there and say, 'Come to Turkey for all of our luxury accommodations,' " said Daniel Benoit, account director on the Turkish Government Tourist Office's at Bensimon Byrne D'Arcy, Toronto. "We have them, but as a brand that's not what we focus on."

Turkey has some of the world's most renowned ancient ruins and archeological sites, as well as the whirling dervishes, an Islamic sect famous for its ceremonial dancing. The country also has sites important to three of the world's most prominent religions--Christianity, Islam and Judaism. All play prominent roles in current TV and print campaigns with the tagline: "Turkey. The center of world history."

The tourist office spends an estimated $3 million in the U.S., doubled from last year.

Travel to Turkey from North America has risen significantly, increasing by more than 73% from 1993 to 1998. And the destination got a shot of free publicity when John F. Kennedy Jr. honeymooned there in 1996.

Turkey's targeting of high-end individuals with a non-luxury angle fits within the surge in adventure travel, a trend on the rise, according to the most recent LuxeReport from API Travel Consultants, a network of luxury travel agencies now named Virtuoso. The interest has led to the creation of new cruises with adventure themes and options such as the rock-climbing wall aboard Royal Caribbean Cruises' new Voyager of the Seas, aimed at active baby boomers.

OUT-OF-THE-ORDINARY THIRST

Of course, Turkey isn't presenting itself as an outdoor amusement park. But it is playing into a thirst for the non-traditional, and would like to attract wealthy tourists more interested in a trip they can claim was a profound experience.

"With the proliferation of overseas travel, people are looking for new destinations," said Chris Spring, president of Spring O'Brien, New York, a public relations/advertising agency that represents high-end travel options such as New Zealand and Hong Kong.

Realizing that many potential visitors to Turkey have niche interests such as photography or architecture, Bensimon officials and the media buyers they work with at Media-Vest, New York, use highly targeted print buys to reach people. Publications such as American Photo and Architectural Digest join Civilization and Archaeology in the media plan.

That approach should do well among the new crop of wealthy travelers who crave experiences and authenticity over showy displays of consumerism.

Late last month, Turkey launched a TV campaign on local cable in New York and Los Angeles, the top two North American markets it draws from. Outlets include the History Channel and the Learning Channel. The use of smaller niche titles and cable outlets also fit the tourism board's modest budget in the U.S.

Turkey's 2000 efforts come after the devastating earthquake last year that hurt North American tourism. In 1998, Turkey hosted 2.5 million visitors from the U.S.; that fell to 2.3 million last year, with numbers falling off sharply each month after the August quake.

SWIFT DROP

It "fell off so suddenly and dramatically," said Linda Faes, who runs the U.S. office of tour operator Treasures of Turkey, which saw only a relatively modest 30% decline in business because it books small groups.

After the quake, Turkey almost immediately pulled its North American advertising. "It doesn't make sense to actively promote a destination that's fresh in people's minds associated with tragedy," said Bruce Payne, group account director-general manager at Bensimon.

Also, the Turkish government is giving a boost to tour operators through an ongoing co-op program, where they can have their names listed on print ads.

And Turkey appears to have made a recovery on the tourism front. Figures from the Turkish tourist office show travel from North America is now exceeding pre-earthquake levels.

Perhaps a recent agreement between sometime foes Turkey and Greece will also help. The neighbors assisted each other when each experienced earthquakes last year and this year reached an agreement to promote tourism between the two countries.

Copyright June 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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