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The Finnish Terhi Alanya first came to visit Alanya in 1996 and became the first travel agent at the new established Detur in 1998. Now the tour operator is one of the largest in Alanya and brings tens of thousands of Scandinavian tourists to the beach resort every year. Terhi saw Alanya change and shake of its ‘cheap image’. “The last several years we worked hard to increase the quality of the city. But now, when there are actually more tourists with money to spend, we can not forget the tourists with tighter budgets that came to visit Alanya from the very beginning.”
Until a decade ago, Alanya was known as a cheap holiday destination. The range of hotels and facilities present aimed at tourists with a small purse. But at some point the call for more so called ‘quality tourists’ arose among entrepreneurs of Alanya. Or, in other words, tourists that had more money to spend. Terhi Alanya, destination manager at Detur tour operator, remembers this well.
"You may want another kind of tourist, but you should also do something to make them want to come. People often say Alanya is changed. I say: We have changed Alanya. Change is not easy. If we didn’t focus on change or worked hard, nothing would have happened."
Terhi first got to know Alanya in 1996 when she came here on holiday with a friend. Because it was too hot outside, and rooms did not have air conditioning yet, she spent her days reading in the lobby. There she met her current husband, Levent. “I thought he was working at the hotel, because he was so busy working all the time, but later on he turned out to be the owner.”
The following six months, Terhi travelled up and down to Alanya, and Levent came to Finland to meet her father. “I’m an only child and my parents were naturally protective of me. I already wanted to leave for Alanya and live there, but my parents didn’t let me go before I had a job and my own apartment there.” That was settled and Terhi started as a travel agent. The first six months, Terhi’s mother came with her to see how it would go in this other country.
“For my parents it wasn’t easy seeing their daughter leave for Turkey. But when they got to know Levent better, and also his family later on, they could calm down a bit, also because I was treated very well as a foreigner. I never had any problems with the Turkish people. When you come to Europe as a foreigner, people often look at you different. But in Alanya I have never felt like an outsider. Maybe also because I’m one of those people who doesn’t get upset easily. And I entered the family immediately, so I wasn’t looked at as a ‘foreigner with a Turkish boyfriend’.”
The things that were really different, were mainly practical, says Terhi. "For example the food. In Finland I was living on so called readymade meals. Fine food in our country but in Turkey they just don’t have it. Nothing pre-cooked or pre-cut or already cleaned. You had to do everything yourself. The first time I felt like having chicken was really traumatic. At that time it wasn’t possible to buy chicken filet or chicken legs. At the fish and vegetables market I had to buy a whole chicken and clean it myself at home. I managed, but don’t ask me how!”
In 1998 Detur was founded in Alanya, a tour operator focused on tourists from Scandinavian countries. Terhi was their first hostess and welcomed the first airplane to arrive with Scandinavian tourists at Antalya Airport. Meanwhile Detur is one of the largest tour operators of Alanya. “I was - so to speak - brought up with this company. When I started, tourism was still very different from today. Scandinavians were then what the Russians are now. And probably like the Germans before that. I mean: often it was their first trip abroad, alcohol was cheap and they didn’t know their limit. At that time Turkey was known as an inexpensive holiday destination and especially Alanya had the image of a cheap beach resort. That has changed over the years.”
Tour operators and entrepreneurs, together with municipality, police and other parties, started to modernize Alanya. “We then started to promote the new Alanya and at one point we saw more and more diverse tourists visiting Alanya: young, old, families, highly educated, poorly educated. And that is how it should be. We don’t have the luxury to say we only want tourists with lots of money. We need all tourists. Also elderly who might be living on tight retirement income and families with children that work hard to save money to go on holiday. We respect all tourists and Alanya should remain attractive for all visitors. This means for example that small, cheaper hotels mustn’t disappear. These are the ones that made Alanya what it is today and there is still demand for them.”
According to Terhi, there is still a lot that can be done to attract a more diverse public to Alanya. “The range of activities for families with children is still underdeveloped. There is a Luna park and an Aqua park but in comparison with for example the possibilities in Spain, we can do a lot here. I am thinking of a zoo of some kind. We have a lot of animals here, like cows, sheep, chickens, horses. Most Finnish children have never seen a donkey in real life. If you develop a nice, clean, well maintained zoo here, I’m sure it will be popular with tourists.”