Case Study I: Ayder Yayla
Mountain environments are appreciated for their natural habitats, cultural diversity, and touristic possibilities, despite being some of the most vulnerable areas on earth. In Turkey, ‘Yayla’ were introduced in the early 1990s as an alternative to ‘mass’ tourism on the Mediterranean and Aegean coasts. Tourism investment in the region was officially designated by law in the late 1980s, encouraging investors into the region. Given that nature-based tourism is not necessarily sustainable, this case study is particularly important as it provides insight into an unsustainable form of nature-based Yayla tourism which is widely experienced in mountain environments. The case study area is located in the eastern part of the Black Sea region (see Fig. 5.2), which connects Georgia and Russia with the central part of Anatolia. It is therefore expected that this region possesses some cultural similarities with those on the other side of the border, while being somewhat different from the rest of Turkey.
As previously stated, the impetus for the development of new tourism areas in the region was the government’s investment there, including major improvements to the transportation network: improvements were made to the Black Sea highway, which connects west to east and south to north, as well as to the airports, which connect the country’s urban hubs (Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir) to the region’s tourist centres (Trabzon and Ordu-Giresun). These improvements have resulted in increasing numbers of international tourists, particularly those from the Middle East
Fig. 5.2 The location map of case studies in the Black Sea region
(Saudis, Israelis, and Iraqis). Alongside these improvements were other tourism-related investments, including the establishment of new shopping centres, malls, and tourist facilities. Nevertheless, it appears that this green tourism has developed without a sense of sustainability.
While many people were coming to see tourism as a viable alternative to agriculture and livestock, the region was being rapidly industrialised with the development of new hotels, restaurants, sports centres, and ventures related to cultural heritage sites (Fig. 5.1). Today, the touristic centre of Ayder possesses 58 tourist hotels, motels, and pensions, together offering a capacity of 2216 beds to visitors. In addition, entertainment facilities comprise of 12 restaurants and a thermal spa centre, a popular attraction for most tourists (MoF 2014). This particularly shows that Ayder Yayla is a strong recreational centre (Figs. 5.3, 5.4). However, this growth is potentially hazardous for the region’s future sustainability, not least because, with the heavy pressure it has put on the environment, there is an increased risk of environmental degradation.
Given that the region is now well connected to the country’s main hubs, thanks to its airports and motorways, this has resulted in increased interest in nature-based tourism activities (Ayder Yayla is only 60 miles from the nearest city centre). There have been further improvements to succeeding roads, enabling visitors to reach many cultural and historic heritage sites, most notably Zil castle, Polovit waterfall, Cinciva historic stone bridge, and Camlihemsin palaces. While these road improvements have offered exciting opportunities for those travelling by car to reach such tourist attractions, the number of domestic visitors has increased substantially over the last decade. As a result, the region struggles to meet demand for car parks and transfer points, while huge quantities of greenhouse gases are being emitted into the atmosphere.
The region’s nature, climate, and ‘adrenalin-packed’ activities attract travellers from all over the world. Initially, the majority of the region’s visitors were from Western countries, yet, over time, more and more Middle Eastern tourists have
Fig. 5.3 A recent picture from Ayder Yayla (2015)
Fig. 5.4 A view from Ayder Yayla (2010)
chosen to visit. Nevertheless, it is somewhat difficult to speak of the region’s tourists as having a single profile, not least because the region offers a broad range of tourist attractions, from health-related to sightseeing. While Middle Eastern tourists tend to prefer health-oriented (e.g. thermal water) and cultural tourism (particularly regional cuisine), Western visitors often prefer to take part in sport-based activities such as hiking, climbing, and canoeing, as well as sightseeing (e.g. visiting cultural heritage sites). This might be a result of Western travellers having a preference for destinations with unusual natural and cultural characteristics.
Overall, the region has been seriously challenged by the sheer number of hotels, restaurants, and tourists, possibly resulting in environmental problems (principally waste and sewage disposal) (Somuncu et al. 2015), as well as losing the opportunity for the development of sustainable, low-impact tourism, rather than prosaic, mundane, and unsustainable forms of tourism. In this manner, it can be argued that this part of the region has lost the opportunity to become a sustainable tourism centre for the country.