Turkey bets on cruise hub for tourism development

ISTANBUL (AFP) – A state-of-the-art port in Istanbul with an underground terminal, a celebrity chef’s restaurant and a shopping mall is hosting another 5,000-passenger cruise ship that will bring more money to Turkey’s tourism industry.

Turkey’s tourism sector, which has been hit hard by COVID-19, could be supported by revenues generated at Galataport, which opened in 2021, a year later than planned due to the pandemic.

The port could also kick-start an economy that has been weighed down by double-digit inflation and a free-falling currency, though the project has drawn criticism due to destruction of historical monuments and potential environmental impacts.

Port chief at Galataport, Figen Ayan, said “ships started arriving one after the other” after the facility opened in October.

“Galataport has become the face of tourism,” she said. AFP.

The 20-story ship Costa Venezia from Italy was carrying passengers from an 11-day voyage across the Aegean when it docked at Galataport, its gangway leading directly to a futuristic underground customs terminal.

View of Galataport from the cruise ship Costa Venezia, moored in Istanbul. PHOTO: AFP

The port is home to a mall, a hotel, cultural centers and a restaurant owned by Turkish butcher Nusret Gokce, better known as Salt Bay, the social media star who sprinkles salt on steaks in front of celebrities.

“Galataport Istanbul is much more than a cruise port,” said Ayan.

Around 30 cruise ships have already anchored in the port of Galata, with 200 more expected by the end of the year, totaling 450,000 passengers.

The pandemic has wreaked havoc on the global cruise ship industry as ships have been hit by outbreaks and ships have been banned in several countries.

“Now we can say that we have put the pandemic behind us and that the cruise sector, which is an important segment of tourism, has revived and is on the move,” Ayan said.

The goal is 1.5 million cruise passengers and 25 million visitors annually.

“If an ordinary tourist spends $62 a day, then a cruise passenger spends $400. He spends eight times as much in one day,” she said.

The project also opened up a 1.2 km coastline that was closed to public use for
200 years.

But critics, including some urban planners and architects, have said the area’s gentrification has destroyed old neighborhoods, with the mall replacing the historic post office, and is also a danger to the environment.

Cruises threaten marine life by dumping large amounts of sewage and other waste, said Muharrem Balci, assistant professor of biology at Istanbul University.

“The environmental cost of cruises is seven times the financial return they generate,” Balchi said. AFP.

“Each traveler’s consumption levels are higher than in host cities, so cruise tourism can create stress (for the environment) in the regions they visit.”

Big ships…

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