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Turkish Tourist Industry

by Lyndie (8/10/2005)

Tourist Industry in Turkey

I have based this essay on my experiences of holidaying in Turkey and from the stories of many of the people and friends I have met and made each time I have been, including that of Yakup, the Turkish boy my family is sponsoring this year.


It is a little disturbing, but I wanted to share it with you because there is another side to the tourist industry that many people don’t know about or understand. When you are enjoying your holiday just spare a moment to think about the people who are looking after you.


When you go to Turkey, most of the boys you meet serving in the bars and restaurants are on a commission only wage. The general amount is 10% of the takings of the bar/restaurant. Most of their wages are saved to see them and their families through the winter and they live on their tips. The average wage of the people I have met is between £100 - £150 per month. When the boys try to get you into their bar don't be impatient or angry with the hassling, their wages depend on your custom, they work 18 hours per day 7 days per week to make their wages for the whole summer season. Don't be mean with the tips either, it is often the only money available to them to spend on their day to day expenses.


I have met young men who have medical problems they can't afford to have treated and terrible dental problems because they can't afford a dentist. I met a boy of 27 this year with really bad arthritis in both his knees. He has to stand outside the restaurant he works in for 9 solid hours every night handing out business cards and trying to entice people in. He is in agony most nights. All this and he has to keep a smile on his face and be friendly when he is in terrible pain. He has more lines on his face than I do! In addition to the 9 hours each day, he serves breakfast in the hotel and cleans in between times. His income depends on his ability to chat to the customers and hotel guests and it is not easy when he is tired, in pain and many customers are very rude.


There are many people like him in Turkey. Shop owners are not trying to 'con' you with their prices, they are trying to make a living for themselves and their families. Most shopkeepers are honest. For many young (and some old) people in Turkey the tourist industry is the only thing that feeds whole families and people travel for days on buses to get to their workplaces in the summer, never to see their families again until the summer is over. Support the Turkish tourist industry not just because you love the country, but because you help to keep people in work. Lovely lovely generous people who will share with you everything they have.


Last year I stayed in a hotel with some people I had met earlier in the year and I was invited to their first meal (its called ‘Iftar’) to break their fast during Ramadan. They provided all the food themselves from their own money and by European standards it was simple and poor, my husband and myself were guests of honour at this meal and we were given all the best food at the meal. It was deeply moving for us to share this special meal with them and something I’ll never forget.


This year we met an English couple at a hotel we had gone to and they had paid for a ‘full board’ holiday which meant they had paid for an evening meal. The husband did not want his dinner that night and wanted me to take it. The waiter was trying to explain to him that he would get into trouble if he gave me the meal. I was not a guest at this hotel. I said that I didn’t want the meal anyway, but would prefer to pay for my own dinner. The English man could not understand this. He said that he had paid for the meal and so he could do what he liked with it. I then explained about the commission. The waiters at the hotel would get their commission from the food sold and we weren’t depriving the hotel owner of the cost of a meal if he gave me his dinner, but we would deprive the waiters of their commission if they didn’t sell another meal. It took a while for this to sink in and I think the man thought I was a bit weird because I insisted on paying for my dinner instead of taking his ‘free’ one.


The point I am making is that the people who work in the tourist industry and who make your Turkish holiday so special live very difficult lives and it won’t kill anybody to remember this when they are enjoying their holiday.


Taxi drivers are not like English taxi drivers who generally own their own taxi’s and keep all the money from their fares. In Turkey, the taxi’s are generally owned by rich businessmen who own whole fleets of cars and then employ drivers to drive them. The percentage the drivers get of the fare is very small. I have seen people haggling with taxi drivers to reduce the fares. Some of the drivers get as little as 1% of the fare. Married men will work all day and night, napping in their taxis when they are not working, in order to make enough money to keep their families. A generous tip from a holiday maker will sometimes be equal to their percentage of a whole days fares.


The interesting thing about my knowledge is that it has not come directly from the ‘workers’ in every case, because very few people you meet will moan about their lives, but my knowledge has come from a variety of other sources. I do have friends who are business men and most of the information about tourist industry workers has come from them. Workers rights in Turkey are practically non existent in the tourist industry.


One hotel I stayed in provided accommodation for the workers in a big room, under the swimming pool. The heat was overwhelming as was the chlorine fumes from the pool, it was appalling. I also saw a seventeen year old cleaning girl forced to sleep on a sunbed next to the pool at night because her room had been given to a guest. She would be trying to sleep in a corner of the pool area while hotel guests were drinking at the bar and making a noise until 3am. The chambermaid would have to get up and start cleaning the hotel at 5am, at seventeen years old she was tired and worn out.


Having said all this, most of the people I have met are genuinely friendly and lovely and they seem to get on with their hard lives with good humour and spirits. I am not trying to make all you happy holiday makers feel guilty about enjoying your holidays (I don’t), but just to make people aware that things are not always exactly what they seem and when you are haggling over a price, or don’t tip the taxi driver because you think the fare was too high, these people who make your holiday so special and enjoyable are not living in the lap of luxury!


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