Turkey’s new airport project set to become one of the world’s busiest air transport hubs
By Jenna Berndt
Turkey is already a popular transit hub and holiday destination for South African travellers due to its accessibility, friendly visa regime and affordability but a new airport megaproject in Istanbul is set to become even more significant, with record numbers for passenger traffic expected within ten years.
Turkey celebrated the soft opening of the new airport facility last week. The project will take 10 years to complete and will have capacity to handle a staggering 200-million passengers when it is finished.
Flight Centre travel experts share their favourite destinations in easy reach of this glittering new facility, in Turkey and beyond.
“Istanbul and Turkey as a whole is a good value for money destination for South Africans conscious of the exchange rate,” says Nicky Potgieter, Flight Centre Leisure Marketing Leader. “The free and easy visa-on-arrival process is just another bonus,” she adds.
According to Travelport, a major global travel technology company, Turkey and Indonesia saw the biggest increase in bookings from South African travellers in the past 12 months.
Istanbul, the capital, has been a strategic meeting place between east and west for some 3,000 years. Today, the sheer diversity of cultures, food and history in the city will leave travellers breathless.
“Turkey is very diverse, and Istanbul is a huge city,” says Natalia Rosa, Director of Big Ambitions, a specialist travel content marketing agency. “You definitely need time to get around the city and see what you want to. You certainly can’t rush from one side of it to the other in a day.”
For passengers transiting in Turkey, take advantage of the Turkish Airlines’ free stopover incentive and hotel programme, which offers complimentary accommodation and sightseeing tours for qualifying passengers. Find details here: TurkishAirlines
Turkish Airlines’ first flights from the new airport will operate into Ankara, Antalya and Izmir, while Travelport’s data show Turkey remains popular with second and third-time visitors, too.
It is no wonder, considering the size of the country and its many attractions.
“Our Turkey CostSaver trips sell like hot cakes,” says Teresa Richardson, Managing Director of The Travel Corporation in South Africa, which operates guided holiday brands Trafalgar and CostSaver, as well as Insight Vacations and Contiki. “From the time we introduced Turkey on CostSaver, we saw our numbers triple and quadruple.”
“I would recommend a couple of days in Istanbul and then a few days in each destination outside of Istanbul,” adds Rosa.
Flight Centre’s experts regard sailing the Turkish Riviera on a gulet, a traditional wooden boat, as one of the most relaxing ways to take in the beauty of Turkey’s coastline and beaches. Anchor at ancient towns such as Fethiye, Kusadasi (and onwards to visit Ephesus) and Canakkale or drop anchor in the Med for a lazy midday swim.
Other must-do experiences in Turkey include Pamukkale, the steeply terraced pools of thermal water, floating above the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia in a hot air balloon, the well-preserved ruins of Ephesus and the city of Konya, a fascinating juxtaposition of old and new.
Eastern Europe itineraries are becoming even more popular as an alternative or add-ons to tours in western Europe. For cost-conscious South Africans, Eastern European destinations such as Poland are especially attractive.
Turkish Airlines already flies direct to Warsaw, Poland’s capital.
“If you still think of Poland as a harsh country full of dull cities and run-down towns, you’ll be pleasantly surprised,” says Jolanta Slomkowski, a South African with Polish ancestry and family living in Poland.
“What you’ll find is contemporary cities and proud people. Expect to be welcomed into the home of a Pole and served a plate of delicious and comforting Pierogi (Polish dumplings). The beauty of eating your way through Poland is that there’s always a quaint cobblestone road or a forest walk nearby to burn off those calories.”
Turkish Airlines will also offer connections to Ercan in northern Cyprus from the new Istanbul airport. Cyprus is split, with Turkey laying claim to the north, while the south of the island identifies as Greek. Nicosia is the capital but make sure you bring your passport to pass between checkpoints.
Development has been slow in the north, but the south is a popular tourist route with many seaside resorts. Paphos is recommended for history buffs, while Flight Centre says beachgoers prefer Nissi Bay.
Thousands of travellers safely visit Cyprus each year although the usual travel precautions apply and travellers are advised to avoid any political demonstrations.
Cyprus is an idyllic place to adapt to a slower pace of life and feast on platters of meze and sticky Balaclava.
Lonely Planet’s number one country to visit in 2019, “Sri Lanka is enjoying its moment in the spotlight,” says Potgieter. “There are great beaches, such as the surf spot Arugam Bay while Talalla, some claim, is one of the most beautiful beaches in Asia.”
Riding Sri Lanka’s railways is an adventure in itself. The most popular route is Ella to Nuwara Eliya, passing lush tea plantations and mountains. Be forewarned: most trains are packed with passengers.
“Sri Lanka is really cheap for South Africans,” says Joy Niemack, an expat teacher who visited the country in September. “It is beautiful in the mountains, and you can hike and visit the tea plantations.”
There are also many sacred sites, such as Sigiriya, an ancient rock fortress that has been used by Buddhist monks for centuries.
There is an overwhelming array of experiences to enjoy if you know where to look and have a heart for adventure.
The opening of Istanbul’s new airport and thousands of passengers passing through its terminals each day will mean even better access for South African travellers setting out to see the world.
Turkish Airlines operates daily flights to Istanbul from Johannesburg and Cape Town and four flights a week from Durban.