Travel has almost returned to its pre-pandemic peak. In November 2023, the U.N. World Tourism Organization observed that international travel was on course to achieve 90% of pre-pandemic levels, with approximately 975 million individuals venturing abroad during the year.
Among these international travelers, Türkiye emerged as a favored destination.
In December, Euromonitor International unveiled its Top 100 City Destinations Index 2023, indicating the leading 10 cities globally for international arrivals. Strikingly, two of the top four most-visited cities globally are situated in Türkiye – Istanbul and Antalya.
"Istanbul leads the tally for international arrivals in 2023 with a 26% surge year-on-year, followed by London in second place (up 17%) and Dubai in third (up 18%)," the report highlighted.
While Istanbul's stature as a sprawling megalopolis of 15.5 million people may not be surprising, Antalya's ability to welcome 16.5 million international visitors, surpassing cities like Paris, Hong Kong, Bangkok and New York City, is remarkable given its smaller population of 1.3 million.
Antalya has perennially been a favored destination for Germans, Russians and Brits, who comprise the majority of its international arrivals.
Its azure waters, temperate climate, and abundant sunshine have historically rendered it a beach destination, but its picturesque setting amid limestone plateaus overlooking ancient Roman walls and Ottoman-era architecture has led Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Türkiye, to famously declare: "There is no doubt that Antalya is the most beautiful place in the world."
Thanks to a substantial increase in available flights, more people from diverse corners of the globe are now able to savor Antalya's splendor.
According to the Euromonitor International report, the city witnessed a 29% surge in international visitors in 2023 compared to the previous year.
"Antalya is not merely a significant tourism hub for Türkiye but also the world. It surpasses visitors' expectations with its natural allure, rich history, cascading waterfalls, majestic mountains, pristine beaches, and delectable cuisine," remarked Banu Aydoğdu, a retired educator who currently hosts Turkish culinary classes in the region.
"I firmly believe people fall in love with Antalya because it offers more than just a typical vacation."
However, tourists aren't solely flocking to Istanbul and Antalya. As per data from the State Airports Authority Directorate General, both domestic and international flight arrivals across Türkiye surged by 16.3% year-over-year in 2023, indicating the nation's readiness to welcome an even larger influx of international visitors in the forthcoming year.
In January 2024, Türkiye abolished the requirement for travelers from the United States, Canada, and Mexico to obtain an e-visa for stays lasting less than 90 days.
This recent relaxation of entry restrictions is anticipated to further bolster the number of international travelers to Türkiye, which escalated by 10.4% in 2023 to exceed 49 million visitors.
Additionally, Türkiye remains an economically viable destination for Americans, with the cost of living estimated to be 54% lower than in the United States.
Another compelling factor drawing visitors to Türkiye is its burgeoning medical tourism sector. According to data from the Turkish Statistical Institute, approximately 1.2 million individuals traveled to Türkiye in 2022 for medical purposes – a staggering 308% increase compared to 2021.
An additional 746,290 medical tourists visited Türkiye in the first half of 2023 alone. Antalya, in particular, is a sought-after destination for dental tourism, with numerous local dentists and comprehensive dental tourism operators offering to cover patients' travel accommodations.
However, according to locals, visitors aren't solely drawn to Istanbul and Antalya for economic reasons. They come seeking rejuvenation.
"Antalya... boasts an array of natural wonders, millennia-old historical ruins, adrenaline-pumping sports events, and health tourism," noted Antalya tour guide Avni Coşar, adding that "the Mediterranean tranquility and the city's serene lifestyle promise tranquility."