Transportation is the essential link between the tourist generating regions and tourist receiving countries via mostly air transportation and between main centers and local destinations via mostly land and sea transportation. There are Turkish-owned tour operators in different European countries with private airline investments such as Oger Tour with Atlas Jet, Bentour with MNG Airlines, GTI Tours with Sky Airlines, Birce Tour with Inter Air, and Corendon Tour with Corendon Airlines. Turkish Airlines and other twelve private airline companies have been operating international and domestic lines, with a capacity of over 50 thousand seats.

Travel Agencies and Tour Operators

Travel agencies are business organizations embodying the portion of travel industry that provides marketing services, establishes connections between the product (industry) and consumer (tourists), and provides the distribution service as intermediaries. The organizational structure and activities of travel agencies is regulated by the Law 1618 concerning travel agencies. This law and the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies provide the definition of travel agencies and list the services they can offer. Travel agencies are grouped under three categories according to the services they perform (see, TURSAB 2015a).

Group A agencies: According to the law, group A agencies are granted provisional operation licenses for a period of 2 years. Provisional operation license of an A group travel agency can be converted to operation license if the agency can obtain within this period of 2 years certain amount of foreign exchange earnings as specified by the relevant article of the law. Group A agencies offer and perform all services specified in Article 1 of the Law 1618. They produce and market all kinds of activities of travel agencies. Group A agencies organize tours to foreign countries from Turkey provided that such tours do not exceed 25 % of the amount of foreign exchange they brought from abroad in the previous year, through the tours arranged by them. Foreign travel agencies cannot organize tours to other countries from Turkey.

In Turkey, it is hard to distinguish travel agencies from tour operators because some travel agencies also act as tour operators and vice versa. They operate vehicles, offer guided itineraries in a destination with air as well as ground transportation, hotels, and other services. They, on their Web pages, claim to offer high-quality services for all business and holiday trip organizations, flight tickets, hotel reservations, cultural tours, all kinds of outdoor activities, daily nature tours, package tours, insurance, car rentals, obtaining visas, delivery of tickets to office/home, notification of potential travelers for special flights and tours, congress and seminar organizations, fairs, yacht tours, providing tour guides, and transfers (from airport to hotel). However, such all inclusive claims do not necessarily mean such services would be actually provided. In fact, they provide very limited services (Erdogan 2009).

Group B agencies sell tickets for international land, sea, and air transport and tours arranged by group A travel agencies. Group C agencies organize and market domestic tours for Turkish nationals in the country. The group A agencies provide international services while the group C agencies only work at national level. Group B and C agencies can also carry out the services which are entrusted to them by A group travel agencies.

Travel agencies must have a business certificate from the Ministry of Tourism and Culture and be a member of the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TURSAB). The right of monitoring the agencies was given to the TURSAB by the law no. 1618. TURSAB is a professional organization having the status of legal person, established by Law in 1972.

The number of agencies is steadily increasing in Turkey. At the end of 2014, there were 7950 travel agencies including branch offices in nearly all cities (TURSAB 2015b). However, majority of the agencies are located in two or three major cities of mass tourism.

Turkish travel agencies need a modern management system emphasizing global market expansion and global administration, specialization, convergence, a qualified work force, renewal, research and development, and sustainability.

Furthermore, the very existence of tourism facilities with hotels, lodges, bungalows, and restaurants does not mean that they are engaging in ecotourism or nature-based tourism. Fencing a large area of land on top of a mountain, organizing tours and daily excursions to remote and natural areas are not sufficient conditions for an activity to be called ecotourism. Although travel agencies have expanded their operations to the rural and natural areas since the expansion of ecotourism, it is rather doubtful if any or some of their operations are eligible to be called ecotourism. Widespread environmental interest has encouraged the use of ecotourism as a marketing gimmick to give businesses a green edge on the competition. Misleading advertisements and engaging in marketing activities using names and symbols provide false images such as “nature with its best,” “eco-paradise,” “eco adventure,” “sole eco-feeling,” and “adventure experience.” Promotional activities add “eco” label in front of everything, such as Eco-Rent-A-Car, Eco Taxi, Eco Cinema, and Eco Auto Park (Erdogan 2012). Content of Web pages of tourism agencies in Turkey indicate general lack of interest and sensitivity to environment beyond some catchy words (Erdogan 2012).

The natures of daily practices from production to consumption create and sustain certain human and environmental circumstances that form the prevailing character of human and environmental conditions. The dominant mode of doing business combined with the lack of environmental consideration, improper facility planning, organization, management, and unwanted negative impacts on flora and fauna make it very difficult to have the kind of “ecotourism” that is depicted by the promoters. Regarding general nature of the travel agencies, very few Turkish travel agencies have environmentally oriented structural characteristics. It means that Turkish agencies are in need of structural adjustment to the new tourism environment based on sustainability.

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