Come to me all the rich
KALKAN, Turkey, Aug. 15 - The village rises gently from the bright brimming bay on the Mediterranean, its whitewashed houses climbing the folds of the hills in a more or less orderly fashion.
The place was once quiet and unchanging, a balance of fishermen and olive farmers where the brilliant sun and royal blue sea were the fortune. Today the measure is more conventional - tourist dollars and real estate values.
"Kalkan is not spoiled, but some things could go wrong if we are not smart," Hakan Basoz, who traded teaching for running a tour company, said as he navigated his minivan along the road above the sea and pointed out the new houses and small hotels under construction.
Kalkan, with a year-round population of 1,500, is still peaceful. The only congestion is the occasional overflow of yachts in the marina. A few thousand tourists a season visit the shops and stay in the small hotels or at Club Patara, an elegant upscale resort.
But Turkey is on the cusp of what many in the field predict will be phenomenal growth in tourism, and the people here along the Mediterranean in southwestern Turkey and in hundreds of other towns and cities are eager to share in the anticipated prosperity.
Expectations are especially high because as Turkey endures the worst economic crisis in its modern history tourism is the only sector that is thriving. The number of visitors is 20 percent ahead of last year, with a record 12.5 million tourists expected and revenues estimated at $10 billion.
Government officials portray tourism as the country's salvation, predicting a doubling of visitors and revenue in the next four to five years. Even more modest estimates forecast steady double-digit growth.
"For next year and after we aim at better figures with a better capacity for high-quality tourism," said Cengiz Yucel, head of research and development for the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies in Istanbul.
The demographics of tourism provide clues for where the country is today and where its travel industry and government hope it will be tomorrow.
Europeans see Turkey as a sun- drenched bargain, particularly with this year's devaluation of the Turkish currency. They tend to come on bargain tours and spend their time on the beaches of the Aegean and Mediterranean.Germans are the most common tourists. Bypassing Istanbul and the historic sites, they flock to the all-inclusive vacation villages dotting the Mediterranean coast of southern Turkey. Russians and the British are next, followed by the Dutch and French.Americans rank sixth, with about 500,000 visitors last year. They usually travel individually or in small groups and visit Istanbul and places of historic interest. Americans spend more money than other people - an average of $1,268 per personcompared with $769 by Germans and $502 by Russians, according to the Central Bank of Turkey. With an international promotion budget of $30 million this year, the government is trying to keep the bargain tourists while making new appeals to bigger spenders from the United States, Japan and other more distant countries. Much of the new development is aimed at upscale tourists, with an emphasis on historic sites as well as the dazzling coastline.
The tourism industry was built up in the 1980's by the government through cheap loans and tax breaks for private investors. The way the government and developers handle the new push for growth will determine how places like Kalkan fare in the future.
Skimming across crystal clear water in his speedboat, Turhan Kaso pointed out the new road being carved into the hillside cupping the southern end of Kalkan Bay. "That is a monstrous mistake," he said. "They will ruin the view for many just to build houses for a few."
Mr. Kaso, an Istanbul architect and builder, first visited Kalkan in the 1980's. Though the area contains stunning Lycian tombs carved into cliffs and other ancient sites, he was in search of new places to dive. He found wonderful spots among the small islands outside the bay and returned many times.
For years, he dreamed of building a vacation house here. By the time he started work in the late 1980's the dream had grown a bit. The result was Club Patara, a honeycomb of 250 villas and a 60-room hotel nestled on a hillside across the bay from the village.
The development is a sharp contrast to the overbuilt and crowded vacation villages farther south toward Antalya. Mr. Kaso used natural stone, abundant greenery and earth tones on his gently rounded buildings to fit the resort with the environment.
Trees and winding pathways conceal the houses.
"I had no desire to destroy what brought me here in the first place," said Mr. Kaso, maneuvering his boat toward the dock. "I have a house here, too." In the decade since Club Patara opened, Kalkan has undergone a slow, steady transition from rural village to tourist town. The ground floors of village houses that once held goats and sheep were cleaned up and turned into restaurants and carpet shops. Many larger homes became small hotels, all of which seem to have rooftop restaurants and menus in English. Instead of commercial fishing, boats are used for sport fishing or scuba diving.As the growth pushed beyond the village boundaries, some people grew anxious. Mr. Basoz cited a larger village 20 miles away where uncontrolled building has damaged its character and charm.He and others formed a foundation to limit growth in Kalkan. The mayor and othercivic leaders were sympathetic and restrictions were approved. But the lure of tourist dollars is proving a difficult force to counter. "My uncle owns 300,000 square meters of land" - about 75 acres - "on the far end of the bay and he wants to sell to a developer," Mr. Basoz said. "I tell him he needs to wait and we need orderly growth. But it's hard to wait."