TRNC Minister of Tourism and Environment Fikri Ataoglu gave an interview regarding the future of tourism in North Cyprus to journalist for Turkish daily ‘Hurriyet’, Barcin Yinan. Here are some excerpts:
“(…) We are also seriously focusing on health tourism and we have received serious interest from investors on this issue. We have 100,000 students from all over the world and highly developed medical universities. In addition to the education these universities provide, they have also entered the health sector.
Northern Cyprus recently became the 54th member of the World Health Tourism Congress. We believe this is very important. The island’s weather is excellent for the elderly, so we have started working on plans to attract older tourists, especially from countries with long winter seasons. Our purpose is to make them stay much longer than ordinary tourists.
Q: What are the numbers?
A: We have one million tourists coming to the island annually. We have managed to increase this number this year by attracting more tourists in the winter season. Now, 70% of the capacity of hotels is already filled until June. We also try to make sure our guests do not stay in their hotels and instead visit historic and natural beauties of the island.
Q: The biggest obstacle facing foreign tourists is transportation. How do you plan to overcome that obstacle considering the embargoes imposed on the North?
A: We currently use the touchdown system, where the plane carrying tourists makes a short stopover in Turkey. We have plans to expand that system. It seems this is only possible with planes coming from the UK.
We are also working on other destinations. But it is true that due to reported obstructions from the Southern Cypriot administration, we do encounter problems.
Q: What about Turkey? Do you think the potential is fully used?
A: We are working on that as well. Last May flights from Diyarbakir started operating, and last August flights from Ordu started. We are also working to start flights from other destinations like Konya. Many Turkish Cypriots came to the island originally from the Konya region, and we believe opening that new destination will reconnect people. We are also working on a more serious promotion in the UK. There are a lot of Turkish Cypriots living in the UK but there is a disconnection between second and third generations and the island. We want to attract these young generations back to their roots, so we will organise some activities in the UK in May.
Q: It seems that the sea links between Cyprus and Turkey are not sufficient either.
A: We are also working on opening additional lines from Antalya and Alanya [on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast]. We are talking with certain companies and we are hoping to get these lines operating this summer.
Q: Have you got plans for what to do if the current talks on the island are to end in lasting peace?
A: No we do not have such plans. We are focusing on how to develop and improve the existing situation. The most important thing for us is to explain and promote ourselves at home. We believe that will attract a high number of tourists [from Turkey]. But we will also concentrate on promotion in other counties. In addition to the UK, we are targeting Germany, where a lot of Turks live. Azerbaijan, Iran and Russia are other countries in our plans.
Currently one of our biggest problems is uncompleted investments. There are even some investments that were scheduled to start but did not begin at all. If these investments do not start in due time, we will take them back and give them to those who can actually complete them.”