Istanbul – 2010 European Capital of Culture

It just seems that Turkey has birthed all that one could hope for in a destination. If you have not yet tried Turkish wine, you soon will—the country is the fourth leading producer of grapes and is quickly catching up in popularity among oenophiles. Let’s not even touch upon the fact that this was the seat of the most powerful and prolific empires on earth—Byzantine, Roman and Ottoman. And there’s one more, very important incentive—this country is much more cost-effective than so many other destinations.

“A key selling point for Turkey to American travelers, namely for value-oriented travelers, is ‘luxury for less,’” says Bekar. “The exchange rate is terrific: two U.S. dollars buys three Turkish lira. And visiting Turkey is a true bargain. For example, a four-star hotel in the heart of Istanbul can be obtained for about $250 per night; compare that to even three-star hotels in Manhattan and Americans can see that Turkey is a virtual steal.”

Given last year’s numbers, it seems that travelers all over, even in this side of the pond, took notice of all of the country’s attributes. “Unlike so many destinations, 2009 was a success story for travel to Turkey. In a year where a worldwide recession affected travel dramatically for most destinations, Turkey eclipsed the 27-million visitor mark for the first time in its history,” says Bekar. “As for the American market, Turkey did something no other European nation did last year: it held stable. It goes without saying that this is a tremendous accomplishment and, as the economy improves this year, Turkey is in a prime position to greatly expand travel from North America.”

travel options According to Bekar, one of the most important target groups right now is cruise travelers. More than half of first-time American visitors to Turkey arrive by cruise ship and as their U.S. numbers keep increasing, they’re working more on their ports and with the different cruise lines that visit Turkey. “Our goal is not only to showcase the destinations visited in as favorable a light as possible, but to spurn repeat visitation—this means convincing cruisers who saw, for example, Istanbul, Ephesus and Troy for a day each to come back to Turkey at a later date to invest more time seeing all the quality attractions and experiences we have to offer for American travelers.”

Cruisers who’d like an initial taste of the destination can opt for Louis Cruises’ Greece & Turkey itinerary aboard the Louis Cristal, which lets passengers explore Istanbul leisurely or through one of several great excursions by docking there overnight and departing more than 24 hours after arrival. The ship also visits Kusadasi so visitors can spend some time in the ancient city of Ephesus, one of the world’s most outstanding ruins. Greece & Turkey has two monthly departures through October and is available through Homeric Tours and other wholesalers.

Another option: General Tours, which has “impassioned Istanbul guides, English-speaking city residents who are always up-to-the-minute on what’s going on in and around town. They can easily arrange for our guests to attend a special cultural event or exhibit,” says Mickey Huang, marketing manager for General Tours. Additionally, the tour operator offers a “4-day Istanbul FreeStyle City Stay that includes sightseeing with a private car, driver and guide, giving our clients the flexibility to incorporate special exhibits and events as their schedule and local traffic conditions allow,” he explains. This can be tacked on to General Tours’ program that visits the great city—even its 8-day Gems of Turkey, “available on a privately guided basis or with a small escorted group. Either way, with our terrific city-resident guides, the 3-night stay in Istanbul can easily be enhanced with Cultural Capital events and activities.” This tour starts at $3,499 pp dbl.

A sound choice for getting there? Turkish Airlines. They have new First Class Suites to brag about these days, but don’t discount its impeccable Business Class.