Turkey relies on a modern cruise hub to boost tourism

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Istanbul (AFP) – A state-of-the-art port in Istanbul with an underground terminal, celebrity chef’s restaurant and shopping mall welcomes another 5,000-passenger cruise ship, bringing more money to Turkey’s struggling tourism industry.

Turkey’s tourism sector, hit hard by Covid, could benefit from revenues at Galataport, which opened in 2021 – a year later than planned due to the pandemic.

The port could also provide a boost to an economy weighed down by double-digit inflation and a free-fall currency, although the project has been criticized for destroying historical monuments and the potential environmental impact.

Figen Ayan, chief port officer at Galataport, said “ships came in one after another” after the facility opened in October.

“Galataport has become the face of tourism,” she told AFP.

The 20-story Costa Venezia ship from Italy was taking passengers from an 11-day voyage to the Aegean when it docked at Galataport, whose gangway connected directly to the futuristic underground customs terminal.

The port is home to a mall, hotel, cultural venues and restaurant owned by Turkish butcher Nusret Gokce, better known as Salt Bae, the social media star who sprinkles salt on steaks in front of celebrity clients.

“Galataport Istanbul is much more than a cruise port,” said Ayan.

Passengers willing to buy

Around 30 cruise ships have anchored at Galataport so far and 200 more are expected by the end of the year, representing 450,000 passengers.

The harbor is home to a shopping mall, hotel, cultural institutions and a restaurant owned by Turkish butcher Nusret Gokce, better known as Salt Bae
The harbor is home to a shopping mall, hotel, cultural institutions and a restaurant owned by Turkish butcher Nusret Gokce, better known as Salt Bae Yasin AKGUL AFP

The pandemic wreaked havoc in the global cruise industry as outbreaks ravaged ships and ships were banned in several countries.

“Now we can say that we are past the pandemic and that the cruise sector, which is an important segment of tourism, has revived and is moving,” Ayan said.

The goal is 1.5 million cruise passengers and 25 million visitors annually.

“If a regular tourist spends $62 a day, a cruise passenger spends $400. He spends up to eight times more in a day,” she said.

environmental costs

The project also developed a 1.2-kilometer stretch of shoreline that had been closed to public use for 200 years.

However, critics, including some urban planners and architects, say the area’s gentrification destroyed old neighborhoods, with the mall replacing a historic post office building, and also posed an environmental risk.

Galataport has an underground customs terminal
Galataport has an underground customs terminal Yasin AKGUL AFP

Cruises threaten marine life by dumping large amounts of sewage and other waste, said Muharrem Balci, associate professor of biology at Istanbul University.

“The environmental cost of cruises is seven times the financial return they offer,” Balci told AFP.

“Each traveler’s consumption level is higher than in the host cities, so cruise tourism has the potential to create stress (for the environment) on the regions visited.”

Big ships were banned from Venice last year after years of warnings the giant floating hotels could irreparably damage the lagoon city.

MSC Cruises Country Manager Burak Caliskan said no such danger awaited Istanbul.

“We don’t think Istanbul will face a similar situation. We don’t have a city structure like Venice,” he told AFP.

Caliskan also said newly built ships take environmental concerns into account.

“To give just a few examples, the ships’ exhaust gases are filtered. The colors used on the ships have been completely changed. Colors are used that do not harm the sea,” he said.

Critics say the neighborhood's gentrification has destroyed old neighborhoods and endangered the environment
Critics say the neighborhood’s gentrification has destroyed old neighborhoods and endangered the environment Yasin AKGUL AFP

“We’re even making efforts to reduce the noise of ships’ engines so that our ships don’t disturb living creatures, especially whales, while navigating the open sea.”

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