The last two decades has seen Fethiye evolve from a small backwater on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey into a thriving town. It is surrounded by some of the most spectacular geography in Turkey and its fertile hinterland produces a staggering amount of fruit and vegetables.
In addition to its rapidly increasing population, the Fethiye region welcomes more than a million tourists annually. Local businessman and vegetable producer, Şemsi Toprak, says that these core features have made it an ideal model for sustainable tourism.
His agricultural experience secured him a position with the globally influential Travel Foundation on their ‘Taste of Fethiye’ project and he is also a member of FETDER (Fethiye Ecological Tourism Development Association), the first ‘home-grown’ sustainable tourism initiative for Fethiye.
In a conversation with Fethiye Times, Toprak shares his vision of a sustainable future for Fethiye.
FT: Is there a simple definition of sustainable tourism?
ŞT: UNESCO describes sustainable tourism as a process that “respects both local people and the traveller, cultural heritage and the environment, seeking to provide people with an exciting and educational holiday that is also of benefit to the people of the host country.” The environment is a vital part of any sustainability programme but no more so than economic, cultural and social principles; all play important roles in any community provided they are managed sensitively. To achieve its goals, sustainable tourism must address the needs of visitors, the environment, host communities, as well as the industry itself, in a balanced and harmonious way.
FT: Is sustainability a hippy eco-dream or a reality?
ŞT: There is a strong business case for sustainable tourism both economically and environmentally with benefits for tour operators, local business, producers and the community. Tui and Thomas Cook are in the vanguard of sustainability as a business model, not just for tourism destinations but at a corporate level too. Their annual figures suggest huge increases in efficiency and massive savings at the same time. It is something we should all be taking on board.
Of course there has to be a cooperative approach for sustainable tourism to have a positive social, economic and environmental impact on the town: one from which everyone can ultimately benefit. There are already examples of Tui hotels in other parts of the Mediterranean that have adopted a sustainable strategy and made significant savings, while also reducing their impact on the environment.
There is currently a project underway involving the Travel Foundation, (an independent charity working with the travel industry towards a sustainable future), hoteliers, and local farmers. Their five year project called ‘Taste of Fethiye’, has encouraged hotels in the Fethiye region to buy produce from local farmers, while helping local farmers to better understand the needs of hotels, plan their production cycles accordingly and market their goods effectively.
Fethiye’s tourism and agricultural sectors are beginning to come on board, resulting in the area’s local people, farmers and organisations becoming more positive and proactive. Plans are now underway to implement domestic sustainability projects, taking their lead from the Travel Foundation’s project.
FT: What role will FETDER play in Fethiye’s sustainable future?
ŞT: FETDER is a group of local business people, residents and village representatives working towards two main aims: to see the region thrive without putting too much pressure on the population, traditions and environment and to encourage cooperation between hotels, local suppliers and communities, utilising the town’s natural resources and labour force. FETDER believes that Fethiye, already self sufficient, has the potential to become a leading sustainable tourism destination and a model for other parts of Turkey.
FT: Describe Fethiye’s current position in the highly competitive domestic and international tourism market?
ŞT: Fethiye came relatively late to the tourism industry. About 25 years ago it was a destination popular with independent travellers and a stopover on the BIue Cruise. It was not until the early 1990s, after Dalaman airport made the town more accessible, that Fethiye became a focus for mass tourism.
Even now, compared with the coastal developments of Antalya, the Fethiye area is an example of small, low rise, independent resorts.
FT: Do you think that mass tourism can ever be truly sustainable?
ŞT: Fethiye has a lot of advantages as a destination. For example, we have the resources: it is a working town with a large local population to support our tourism infrastructure. Fethiye is also thriving agriculturally and this enables us to supply our hotels and restaurants with fresh produce. Fethiye has all the resources it needs to be sustainable. A population of 190,000, and the fact that Fethiye can feed itself, are both crucial factors for the town’s sustainability.
Fethiye is surrounded by rural areas and the Travel Foundation has produced a booklet for tourists renting cars, giving them an opportunity to find and visit out of the way places like Arpacık (Nif), where there is an annual cherry festival and Üzümlü where there is an annual mushroom festival. This approach is a model for FETDER and they are planning to produce similar guides for other rural areas and developing a ‘Fair Trade’, green approach to these initiatives.
FT: How do you think a sustainable model for tourism can be practically demonstrated in the area?
ŞT: Tui has a 10-year sustainability plan and their business model for the region is based on sustainability and they see it as a fundamental part of their work here. We are very fortunate to have a chance to work with them. Fethiye is a leader in sustainability at the moment because of their input.
FT: What do you think are the most important aims for FETDER?
ŞT: Ecological and agro-tourism aren’t enough for a destination to be sustainable; we need to include mass tourism. That has been acknowledged and will become and integral part of our project. I believe we are already well ahead of other destinations in Turkey because of the interest Tui and Thomas Cook are showing in Fethiye and as a result of the Taste of Fethiye project.
This is a huge advantage for Fethiye and has encouraged us to implement some sustainability measures of our own. We have to focus on specific areas: first, eco and agro-tourism. Secondly we must endeavour to introduce sustainable mass tourism.
FT: Is Fethiye unique in Turkey in terms of the advantages it has from these sustainability projects?
ŞT: The Travel Foundation has made sure of that. Also Fethiye can feed itself, unlike many other destinations, that makes it a unique resort in Turkey, and probably elsewhere too.
‘Taste of Fethiye’ participates in local projects and work with communities. For example, in Arpacık (Nif), we are working with the cherry farmers. It’s a beautiful village with wonderful cherries, a perfect place for tourists to visit in the middle of the summer when it is hot on the coast… and there are opportunities for FETDER to do something similar in other rural areas.
FT: How can the sustainability message reach and influence people at grass root level?
ŞT: FETDER will launch an educational project for the hoteliers and those working in mass tourism. At community level, the Yanıklar residents for example, who are members of our association, have already had some success when they stopped the hydroelectricity project on their local river. That was a local initiative, achieved and organised locally, from which have learned a great deal. All our future plans involve working together with the local people and authorities.
FT: How will FETDER get the sustainable message across?
In Kadıköy and Arpacık we already have Taste of Fethiye projects in place where farmers and producers can see it working. We have lots of farmers there who already know about these sustainability measures we are trying to implement but we also need the support of those in power. Fethiye’s governor is being very supportive and once Fethiye people begin to see a benefit from being sustainable I’m sure they will readily accept it.
Being sustainable will not only make money for them, it will save them money too. It will add value to their value of their products and protect the environment. It is a win-win situation but all this is very new and will take time. People needed to see some results before they got involved and these results have come through the Taste of Fethiye project. Through this project a new sustainable benchmark for quality tourism will be established.
I really believe the future is looking good for Fethiye.
Şemsi Toprak has both academic and practical skills, which he now puts to good use working for the Travel Foundation on their Taste of Fethiye project. A graduate in International Relations from Bilgi University, Istanbul and more recently as a successful vegetable producer, he is now a member of Fethiye’s FETDER, a group planning to introduce local sustainable initiatives.