Existing Post ImageWe should work actively for the achievement of synergy between our states, says in a Cherga magazine interview SÜLEYMAN GÖKÇE, Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey to Bulgaria.

Your Excellency, the recent blasts in Turkey are threatening tourism in your country. What measures is your government undertaking to overcome the crisis?

Yes, our country is addressing the threat posed by various terrorist organisations but we are resolute to achieve success and to fully restore peace. Indeed, there is a decline of tourist visits but we are working to remedy to it in two directions. The first one is boosting security, which we did everywhere across the country. The second one is specific to the tourism industry, for which concessions and encouragement measures are implemented.

Since many years Turkey is a favourite destination for Bulgarians. The number of Turkish guests to Bulgaria is also on the rise. In your opinion, are there still more measures that can be taken to increase tourist exchanges between both countries?

We are doing everything for the bilateral tourist exchange, because there is a huge potential in both countries. We invest in charter flights, which could progress to a year-round schedule. We organize various info tours for journalists and tourism businesses to let them acquaint themselves with mutual potential. We run serious promotional campaigns. We increase the attractiveness of the offers for travel and holidays in our country, which is by the way related to reducing costs.

The effectiveness of these measures is a fact, since the number of our visitors from Bulgaria is growing. During the past year, 1,2 million Bulgarians have visited our country, and this figure is for stays over 3 days, regardless whether the purpose was business, travel, or a personal visit. Trips of Turkish travellers to Bulgaria are also rising, to about 900,000 in 2015.

I am positive that the mutual exchange of travellers will grow. However, visa regime is of utmost importance in that respect. We hope that relaxations will be introduced, because, understandably, Turkish citizens prefer places that they can visit visa-free. Visas are taking time, are difficult to obtain, let alone how costly they are. As far as both Ukraine and Russia are not EU members, too, but for them, there are relaxations. Greece, which is a Schengen State, is reacting in a more flexible manner than Bulgaria; for instance, Turks do not need a visa for single-day and weekend trips there. Since the interest in your winter resorts is growing, multiple-entry visas could be introduced for this season only, for example.

Which are Bulgaria’s favourite places for Turkish travellers? Do you have your personal favourites in our country that you would recommend? Accordingly, may you recommend to our readers interesting and lesser-known places in Turkey?

This is a good question. Statistics tell us that interest in your winter resorts is growing – Pamporovo, Bansko are the preferred ones. The same holds true for the large cities such as Varna, Plovdiv, Sofia. Personally, I like these places, too, as well as Burgas. But I also like a lot your mountains, lakes, the Black Sea shore. You have a huge development potential. Bulgaria is among the most beautiful countries in the world. It has many possibilities in different domains – history, culture, seaside and mountain holidays, religious tourism, etc.

What can I recommend to you in Turkey? Let’s take, for instance, religious tourism. In relation to Christianity, Turkey hosts some of the most important places of the holy books: seven of the oldest churches, the cave and the last Home of the Virgin Mary, the first Christian church in Antakya, the first places where Christians preached, the Assyrian churches… Also located in Turkey is Gobekli Tepe – a shrine complex built over 12,000 years ago, older than Stonehenge and the pyramids. Yet another holy place is Konya – the ancient city where Mevlana Rumi was buried, home of the Order of the Whirling Dervishes. Probably not everybody knows that Santa’s birthplace is the Turkish town of Demre, not Lappland. Demre hosts the house, the church, and the tomb of St. Nicholas.

Our country offers also wonderful possibilities to active tourism fans – windsurfing, kitesurfing, ballooning, horse riding, diving, sailing, mountaineering, and many more. As of late, we are developing underwater tourism. Just days ago, a large Airbus was immersed into the sea at our Kusadasi resort. It will serve as an artificial reef and will attract plant and animal species. Last year, a submarine museum with a multitude of sculptures opened off Antalya. In addition, Turkey is second to Spain by the number of beaches awarded the Blue Flag ecological prize.

Places worth visiting in Turkey are really countless. There were 32 different civilizations that crossed the country’s territory; we have 20,000 ancient sites, thousands of antique towns. And all these places are accessible. There are 55 airports in our country. Turkish Airlines flies to 265 destinations in 112 countries. In 2015 alone, the number of air passengers in the country, domestic and international combined, was 182 million. Last year, we opened Ordu-Giresun, Europe’s unique and world’s second airport built off the seashore.

Are there cultural projects on which the two countries co-operate? Tell us more about them.

We have signed a bilateral statement for the preservation of immovable cultural property, for the restoration of cultural centres. This, of course, affects also the exchange of tourists between the countries, makes them more attractive and invigorates tourism.

Are Bulgarian artists known in Turkey? Are there bilateral cultural exchange programmes?

Bulgarian artists are not known enough in Turkey, although you have a prominent school and many talents. There are exchange programmes but they should be developed better, their mechanisms should be improved. More work is needed on those subjects.

In your opinion, is it possible that Bulgaria and Turkey offer in the future a common tourist product?

Our two countries do not compete against each other. We have many similarities and a variety of development opportunities. Turkey takes the sixth rank in the world with its 36 million tourists. It is possible to develop various common packages, but we should work further for their implementation.

It is well known that Turkey’s tourism is extensively developed. Based upon your experience, what would you suggest for the development of tourism in Bulgaria? In your opinion, which are our weaknesses and strengths?

Splendid nature, millennia of history, religious diversity are all substantial start points; they are strengths in the development of tourism. You do have them; Bulgaria’s potential is huge. Weak points are still the infrastructure and the services sector, and you should work to improve them. Turkey focused on tourism late – after the 1980s. However, we are developing it forcefully for 35 years; we are incessantly learning something new, because it is not easy to satisfy different tastes. During that time, we succeeded in developing various types of tourism – culinary, cultural, religious… Healthcare tourism is well developed, too: one million people from 60 countries are coming to us for treatment. The reasons behind are good quality, low costs, excellent facilities.

What interest do Turkish companies manifest in investing in Bulgaria, and namely in the cultural and travel domains? What could we do to attract more investment?

There are no incentives for investing in tourism in Bulgaria. Fiscal and bureaucratic alleviations are necessary. The Bulgarian administration, the Investment Agency should be more active in that respect. The creation of a Ministry of Tourism is laudable. It should work on structuring of tourism, in order to discover niches that can be filled – for example, golf, SPA, trekking, etc. The fact that expenses in Bulgaria are lower is an advantage, but it only counts if quality is high. We should work actively for the achievement of synergy between our countries.

A Maria Petkova interview

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