Arab tourists are on a shopping spree in Istanbul


ISTANBUL – Not many Turkish citizens can afford to go on a shopping spree nowadays, as they have to watch each penny they spend. But money is still not an issue for visitors from the oil-rich Gulf nations, as increased spending by Arab tourists shows.

Many tourists from oil-rich countries are on a spending spree in Turkey and morale has lifted around the country’s shopping malls, as Middle Eastern and Central Asian visitors flock en masse to the compounds.

Visitor numbers to shopping centers had dropped due to the economic crisis and revenue was low. Compounding matters was the introduction of the smoking ban in such malls. The influx of Middle Eastern and Central Asian tourists has come just in time to improve the outlook for many storeowners. Tourists arriving from oil-rich countries are making up for the declining number of arrivals from Russia and Europe.

The number of Saudi Arabian visitors increased 226 percent during the first five months of this year on the year before. The number of Kuwaiti tourists rose 198 percent for the same period, while the number of Iranian tourists increased 88 percent.

Per capita spending of a European tourist in Turkey equates to about $600 per person. Tourists from Middle East, meanwhile, are likely to spend much more money with the average visitor doling out $2,000 while in the country. Last year visitors spent $4.5 billion in Turkey’s shops. And despite the global turmoil, that figure is expected to rise by 20 percent this year. Arab tourists, who generally come to Turkey on tours lasting around four days, are often not interested in the country’s culture. For many, the priority appears to be hitting the shops, and the products of greatest interest include textiles and jewelry. In efforts to get the most out of visitors looking to spend, many shopping malls are offering special promotions to tour organizers.

Luring in foreigners

“Managements of many shopping malls are in talks with organization companies aiming to get them to bring in the tourists,” said Hülya Aslantaş, Global Refund’s partner in Turkey. The locations of shopping malls are included in many Istanbul tourist maps, she said. Even the brands they carry are shown, Aslantaş added.

“We publish brochures on shopping malls and distribute them to hotels and airports. This year the rate of retail tourism rose 12 percent during the first five months of the year,” she said.

The Olivium shopping mall in Zeytinburnu, which received 55,000 tourists last year, contacted many agencies this year and increased the number of tourists visiting by 80 percent, according to the shopping mall’s general manager, Aytaç Özçiçek.

Since the beginning of the year the shopping mall has hosted 23,293 tourists, he said. That figure is expected to rise up to 90,000 by the end of the year, Özçiçek added.

“Back in the day we used to plan culture-focused tours to locations like Topkapı or Hagia Sofia. However, now that we have discovered the enthusiasm Arab tourists share for shopping, we have changed our destinations, and have begun to organize tours to shopping malls,” said Cem Polatoğlu, chairman of Baracuda Tour.

“Currently we are organizing three to four-day trips. Last week we brought 220 people from Jordan just to shop,” he said.