A state-of-the-art Istanbul port with an underground terminal, celebrity chef restaurant and shopping center is hosting another 5,000-passenger cruise ship, bringing more money to Turkey’s struggling tourism industry.
Hit hard by Covid, Turkey’s tourism sector could benefit from revenue generated at Galataport, which opened in 2021 a year later than expected due to the pandemic.
The port could also provide a boost to an economy that has been weighed down by double-digit inflation and a plummeting currency, although the project has drawn criticism over the destruction of historic landmarks and the potential impact on the ‘environment.
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Figen Ayan, port chief of Galataport, said “ship after ship started arriving” after the facility opened in October.
“Galataport has become the face of tourism,” she told AFP.
The 20-story Italian ship Costa Venezia was taking passengers on an 11-day voyage to the Aegean Sea when it docked at Galataport, its gangway connecting directly to the futuristic underground customs terminal.
The port is home to a shopping mall, hotel, cultural venues and a 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 customers.
“Galataport Istanbul is much more than a cruise port,” Ayan said.
About 30 cruise ships have so far anchored at Galataport and another 200 are expected by the end of the year, representing 450,000 passengers.
The pandemic has wreaked havoc on the global cruise ship industry as ships have been hit by outbreaks and ships have been banned in several countries.
“We can now say that we have left the pandemic behind us and the cruise industry, which is an important segment of tourism, has revived and is on the move,” Ayan said.
The objective is 1.5 million cruise passengers and 25 million visitors per year.
“If a regular tourist spends $62 a day, a cruise ship operator spends $400. They spend up to eight times that much in a day,” she said.
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The project also opened up a 1.2 kilometer (three quarter mile) coastline that had been closed to public use for 200 years.
But critics, including some city planners and architects, say the area’s gentrification has destroyed old neighborhoods, with the mall replacing a historic post office building, and has also posed an environmental risk.
Cruises threaten marine life, discharging 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 greater than the financial return they provide,” Balci told AFP.
“Each traveler’s level of consumption is higher than in host cities, therefore cruise tourism has the potential to create (environmental) stress for the areas they visit.”
Large ships were banned from Venice last year after years of warnings that giant floating hotels risked causing irreparable damage to the lagoon city.
Burak Caliskan, country manager of MSC Cruises, said no such danger awaits Istanbul.
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“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 the newly built ships address environmental concerns.
“To give a few examples, the exhaust gases from the ships are filtered. The paints used on the ships have been completely changed. Paints that do not harm the sea are used,” he said.
“We even strive to reduce ship engine noise so that while our ships are sailing on the high seas, they cause no disturbance to living things, especially whales.”
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