Travelers often wonder if claims of ecotourism and sustainability are greenwashing. That’s why the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) developed the GSTC Criteria. The organization vets destinations, hotels and tour operators for sustainable management and socioeconomic, cultural and environmental impact. Türkiye, also known as Turkey, became the world’s first government to start developing a national plan with GSTC. The folks at Türkiye Tourism collectively answered some questions for Inhabitat about sustainable tourism in Türkiye.
Inhabitat: Türkiye’s government has become the first in the world to sign an agreement to develop a national program with GSTC. What do you think makes the country so forward-thinking about sustainability?
Turkey Tourism: We believe the impact of COVID-19 on tourism and travel provides us with a unique opportunity to shape a new future for our vital sector and ensure we recover sustainably and inclusively in a way that empowers both industry stakeholders and communities across the world.
Having signed the Paris Agreement at the end of 2021, Turkey accelerated its sustainability efforts with the effect of the lessons learned from the pandemic. Türkiye signed a cooperation agreement with GSTC, the world’s top environment and sustainability platform, at the beginning of 2022. Türkiye, which started working with GSTC to prepare a National Sustainable Tourism Program, is the first country in the world to sign an agreement to develop a national program in the field of sustainable and green tourism.
This program with the GSTC is planned to restructure the Turkish tourism industry with a three-year protocol. It is expected to be completed in 2030 while also meeting the commitments of the Paris Agreement. The first phase of the program will be carried out gradually in 2023 and the second phase in 2025. As of April 2022, a sustainable transformation will be initiated in accommodation facilities in Turkey. The National Sustainable Tourism Program prepared with GSTC sets the most widespread and highest standards in the field of sustainable tourism. With this, Türkiye aims to ensure the sustainability of the country’s rich natural and cultural resources.
Inhabitat: What are some steps that Turkey has already taken to become a more sustainable tourism destination?
Turkey Tourism: With the Safe Tourism Certification Program implemented in the first months of the pandemic, Turkey instilled great confidence in its visitors. It has put into effect the Safe Tourism Certification Program, which defines a series of measures by all actors of the industry: from transportation to accommodation and from facility employees to passengers’ own health status for Turkish citizens and foreign visitors spending their holidays.
Thanks to this Safe Certification program, which is one of the first of its kind in the world, and the comprehensive vaccination program carried out by Türkiye, the country accomplished a “V” shaped recovery in 2021. Along with the lessons learned about sustainable tourism during the pandemic, the Safe Tourism Certification Program will continue to be implemented as the Safe and Green Tourism Certification Program. It will gain a function that also determines and oversees the sustainability conditions in Turkey as of 2023.
Türkiye has already implemented the Provincial Promotion and Development Program in 2021 with the purpose of promoting tourism throughout the four seasons and gaining sustainable criteria for the whole country. Currently, the Safe and Green Tourism Certification Program is assessed by four ministries.
This program aims both to create a more sustainable tourism model by preserving the nature of the regions that receive intense visits and to bring Turkey to the fore with all its richness in the international arena. It will enable Türkiye’s provinces and sub-destinations to be promoted more effectively in the national and international arena.
Inhabitat: What future sustainability initiatives do you anticipate for Turkey?
Turkey Tourism: Future initiatives include the creation of a Green Türkiye rubric on the GoTürkiye platform as a B2C method of directly informing the public. The aim is to provide a one-stop for those looking for activities and accommodation with a low carbon footprint.
The TOURISM2023 Master Plan of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism has been shaped within the framework of the sustainability vision to generate sustainable tourism policies. In line with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and sustainable tourism management, [the plan] focuses on environmental, cultural and socioeconomic impacts. Our ministry has worked in tandem with the Environment Ministry and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry on various initiatives such as the integration of local farmers into the tourism supply chain.
A nationwide map of eco-labeled facilities in Turkey is currently being worked on. Among many available national and international eco-labels, touristic facilities showing sustainable initiatives are awarded a green star or ISO 14001 label.
National eco-labels have been implemented and will continue [at] different levels. Airports and organizations operating at airports are granted a national label encouraging the systematic reduction of harm they may cause. In the same manner, cruise ports are awarded the Green Ports label aimed at reducing environmental risks, namely emissions, arising from port and ship operations.
Additional villages are expected to join the 18 “Cittaslow” towns recognized in seven regions. Typically, towns with historical character, settlements on high altitude plateaus and stone houses on narrow streets near the seacoast are awarded by the Slow Food movement. An initiative developed as a result of the pandemic has been the promotion of touring Turkey by train.
Inhabitat: What is Turkey doing to combat overtourism?
Turkey Tourism: Before and after the COVID-19 pandemic, the main initiatives were implemented with the main goals of reducing the pressure from mass tourism in coastal areas and spreading the socioeconomic benefits of tourism to underdeveloped regions. These projects developed before the pandemic include the Blue Flag Project for sustainable boating,… Botanical Tourism Project and Silk Road Project.
Inhabitat: What else should readers know about sustainable tourism in Turkey?
Turkey Tourism: Turkey has been aware of the importance of sustainable tourism within the scope of protecting the environment and biological diversity before and after the pandemic. Turkey has implemented many pioneer projects in this regard. In addition to 3S [sun, sea and sand] tourism, Türkiye presently offers coastal tourism, culture and historical tourism, winter sports, mountain and nature tourism, highland tourism… 44 national parks, 247 nature parks, 30 nature protection areas and 116 nature monuments. Along with these products, Turkey has a rare richness in endemic species, flora and fauna.
And there’s lots more information about sustainability in Turkey here. In addition, the Antalya aquarium, the Atatürk Cultural Center, the Presidential Symphony Orchestra in Ankara, the Odunpazarı Modern Museum and Galataport were all built with a sustainable strategy.
Images courtesy of Türkiye Tourism