Sailing down the Istanbul Strait: Türkiye’s cruise tourism on the rise

Türkiye’s Transport and Infrastructure Minister Abdulkadir Uraloglu has announced a notable 66.7 percent surge in cruise passenger numbers coming into the country during the summer of 2023, compared to last year.

As the summer season commenced, the minister underlined the surge in tourist arrivals, highlighting the upswing from 88,566 cruise passengers in April to 176,840 in May.

The momentum in increased tourist inflows continued unabated through June and July,as Türkiye extended its hospitality to 183,407 and 209,033 passengers, respectively.

Uraloglu credited this growth to strategic investments in cruise ports, further underlining the nation’s substantial contributions to both the tourism sector and the overall economy.

He said Türkiye’s prestige among the world’s premier tourist destinations finds resonance in the increasing number of cruise ships and passengers arriving at its ports.

In comparison to the previous year, the number of cruise tourists has surged by 66.7 percent, registering a total of 569,280 passengers during May, June and July of 2023.

Uraloglu’s insights shed light on the efficacy of strategic investments in raising Türkiye’s cruise tourism sector to new heights. “We expect the number of arriving passengers to exceed 1 million by the end of the year. I believe that in the coming years, this number will continue to increase,” the transport minister said.

Flagship Galataport

Galataport Istanbul has been in service for millions of international and domestic tourists since 2021.

Located in the Karakoy neighbourhood of Istanbul on the European shore of the Istanbul Strait near its confluence with the Golden Horn, the new seaport complex includes the world’s first underground cruise terminal connected to a special hatch system, along with around 230 shops and restaurants, a Peninsula hotel, the Istanbul Modern art museum and other cultural and entertainment facilities.

The complex, covering an area of 29,000 square metres, also hosts festivals.

It functions as a main port with a 1.2 km-long mobile conveyor belt, baggage elevators supporting the movement of thousands of suitcases, electric forklifts, a spacious and experienced porter team, a duty-free shop, and provisions areas where ships can source their food and beverage needs.

TRT World spoke with Figen Ayan, Chief Port Officer at Galataport Istanbul, about the importance of cruise ship arrivals for the country, and their contribution to the overall tourism sector of the country.

Galataport has brought significant dynamism to cruise tourism across a wide geographical range, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Black Sea, making a substantial contribution to the regional and national tourism industry and the economy as a whole.

In the opening year, Galataport Istanbul welcomed 13.5 million visitors as it hosted 4 million land-based tourists and 350,000 passengers and crew from cruise ships. “We can say that nearly one out of every three individuals entering Galataport Istanbul is a tourist,” Figen Ayan said.

In 2022, a total of 150 ships from 23 leading cruise companies visited the port, according to information shared by Ayan. By the end of 2023, Galataport aims to host approximately 200 voyages, with 500,000 passengers and crew members. In this regard, “we aim to increase the number of cruise companies by 35 percent, providing services to 31 ships,” Ayan added.

Galataport has not only observed a rise in the number of arrival ships but also the occupancy rate. The occupancy rate of cruise ships visiting the port has increased to 90-100 percent, from 50 percent last year.

“These rates are highly promising for our industry,” Ayan said.

In the forthcoming years, Ayan anticipates hosting a total of 25 million visitors annually, with seven million being international visitors, along with 1.5 million cruise passengers and crew members at Galataport Istanbul.

What does cruise tourism mean for Türkiye?

According to a Turkish Statistical Institute (TUIK) report, the average daily expenditure of an incoming tourist was $89 in the first half of 2023.

However, a cruiser spends an average of $750 per passenger in port cities over the course of a typical seven-day cruise, according to “The State of the Cruise Industry 2023” report published by Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). The report also states that “more than 6 in 10 people who have taken a cruise say that they have returned to a destination that they first visited via cruise ship.”

This expenditure difference for cruisers has a positive impact on various sectors, including accommodation, shopping, dining and transportation.

Ayan underlines the role of ship crew for the industry, as they too have added value to the country’s tourism. “In order to increase this added value, at Galataport Istanbul, we offer various services such as free wi-fi, special discounts and campaigns for cruise ships, a Visitor Center where passengers can get all information and guidance, international cargo and tax-free services,” Ayan said.

Galataport Istanbul is home to the world’s first underground cruise terminal with a Red Dot design award-winning hatch system. In the 2022 Seatrade Cruise Awards, the port earned the title of “Port of the Year”.

Other ports

The first half of 2023 has witnessed an impressive surge in cruise ship activity across several Turkish ports, further solidifying their role in the nation’s tourism industry.

Over the January-June period, Kusadasi port, also on the Aegean Sea south of Izmir, welcomed an astounding 191 cruise ships with over a quarter of a million cruise passengers.

Cesme port, located in the eponymous Aegean holiday resort town 85 km west of Izmir, hosted 34 cruise ships, receiving 20,139 cruise passengers. Bodrum port, in the ancient city on the Asian side of Türkiye called Halicarnassus in Hellenic times, received 29 cruise ships, accommodating a total of 23,332 cruise passengers.

Over the same period, Canakkale port was visited by 18 cruise ships, bringing in 9,086 cruise passengers to the city, known as the nearest city to ancient Troy.

Additionally, other ports collectively hosted 76 cruise ships, and these ports welcomed a total of 55,889 cruise passengers.

These figures underscore the vibrant and vital cruise ship activity across various Turkish ports, highlighting their pivotal contribution to the nation’s thriving tourism sector.


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