Just when Olive Oil Tourism Was Trending in Turkey, the Pandemic Hit

The Covid-19 pandemic has decimated Turkey’s fledgling olive oil tourism industry. However, producers believe agritourism is the future of the sector.
Photo: Duygu Ozerso
Jul. 30, 2021
Wasim Shahzad

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The Covid-19 pan­demic has wreaked havoc on the global econ­omy over the past 16 months, but the tourism indus­try has espe­cially felt its impacts.

According to data from the United Nations World Tourism Organization, inter­na­tional tourist arrivals fell by 73 per­cent in 2020, com­pared with 2019, and a fur­ther 85 per­cent in the first five months of 2021.

Since March 2020, we have not received a sin­gle for­eign tourist at our farm whereas the local vis­i­tors dropped by 90 per­cent com­pared to the pre-pan­demic period.- Haluk Yurtkuran, founder, Adetepe

Turkey is among the coun­tries that were hit hard­est by the pan­demic. In 2019, Turkey was the sixth most vis­ited coun­try in the world, with 52 mil­lion tourists con­tribut­ing $35 bil­lion in rev­enue to the econ­omy.

The num­ber of arrivals plunged by 70 per­cent in 2020, and the gov­ern­ment esti­mates that tourism rev­enue will reach just $23 bil­lion in 2021.

See Also:Andalusia Seeks to Make Olive Production More Profitable With Tourism Initiative

However, among olive grow­ers and oil pro­duc­ers, who have been increas­ingly focused on pro­mot­ing olive oil tourism in the past few years, there are still plenty of rea­sons to be opti­mistic about the future.

Agritourism in Turkey is a brand-new approach,” Duygu Ozerson, the co-owner of Hiç, told Olive Oil Times. The gov­ern­ment, as well as the farm­ers, real­ized the neces­sity of the inter­ac­tion between pro­duc­ers and con­sumers. The num­ber of agri­tourism oper­a­tions is increas­ing every day.”


Located on the pic­turesque Aegean coast­line, Ozerson over­sees 60,000 olive trees, the largest organic olive for­est in the region, along with 30 dif­fer­ent species of aro­matic plants and herbs.

She said that the Covid-19 pan­demic caused tourism to dry up in the region and forced touris­tic oper­a­tors to adapt.

Tourism was the sec­tor most neg­a­tively affected by the Covid-19 pan­demic,” Ozerson said. However… var­i­ous new tourism forms and solu­tions were dis­cov­ered while domes­tic tourists who could not go abroad helped to keep the domes­tic mar­ket alive.”


A limited number of domestic visitors have helped keep the olive oil tourism industry afloat. Photo: Duygu Ozerso

Gastronomy and tourism fes­ti­vals and con­fer­ences started to be orga­nized online,” she added.

About 140 kilo­me­ters north of Hiç, Haluk Yurtkuran has played an active role in keep­ing the country’s olive-pro­duc­ing her­itage alive by found­ing an olive oil museum.

The goal of the Adatepe Olive Oil Museum is to pre­serve the lit­er­ary and visual his­tory of olive oil pro­duc­tion in Turkey,” he told Olive Oil Times. As a pio­neer of olive tourism, we have started the first olive har­vest tour pack­ages for small groups who visit our farm dur­ing the har­vest sea­son, which is con­sid­ered to be the low tourism sea­son for the region.”

Thanks to emerg­ing small olive farms and local muse­ums increas­ing in num­ber and con­tribut­ing to olive tourism as well, con­sumer demand for mono­va­ri­etal olive oils is grow­ing,” Yurtkuran added.

However, travel restric­tions imposed by mul­ti­ple gov­ern­ments on Turkey have seen the num­ber of tourists vis­it­ing Yurtkuran’s farm and museum dry up, and along with it, an impor­tant stream of rev­enue for many pro­duc­ers.


Yurtkuran poses with a traditional press at the Adatepe Olive Oil Museum. Photo: Haluk Yurtkuran

I can eas­ily say that we were receiv­ing 50,000 to 60,000 local and for­eign vis­i­tors annu­ally before the pan­demic,” Yurtkuran said. Seventy-five per­cent of our sales were from the cus­tomers who visit our museum shop and 25 per­cent from online shop­ping.”

Since March 2020, we have not received a sin­gle for­eign tourist at our farm whereas the local vis­i­tors dropped by 90 per­cent com­pared to the pre-pan­demic period,” he added.

However, the agri­tourism sec­tor in Turkey had shown plenty of promise before the onset of the pan­demic. Yurtkuran empha­sized the need for broad coop­er­a­tion from Turkey’s pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tors to get the indus­try back on track.

There must be close col­lab­o­ra­tion and coor­di­na­tion between the min­istry of cul­ture, min­istry of agri­cul­ture, local uni­ver­si­ties and non-gov­ern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions in mak­ing plans and giv­ing guid­ance to local olive pro­duc­ers,” he said.

One of the ways in which to pro­mote olive oil tourism in Turkey has come in the form of set­ting up inte­grated facil­i­ties that bring together all the dif­fer­ent facets of olive grow­ing, oil pro­duc­tion and olive oil cul­ture.

In 2019, the Marka Sehir Project in Balıkesir set out to do just that with the hope that the project would help spur invest­ment in the inland olive oil-pro­duc­ing region. However, the onset of the pan­demic in 2020 has been a sig­nif­i­cant set­back.

Moving for­ward, the archi­tects of the project hope to lever­age Turkey’s immense olive-pro­duc­ing poten­tial and copy what the world’s largest wine-pro­duc­ing regions have done.

Turkey is among the lead­ing export­ing coun­tries in the olive oil sec­tor,” a project spokesper­son told Olive Oil Times. There are esti­mated to be between 1,000 and 1,100 pro­cess­ing facil­i­ties in rural areas where about one mil­lion tons of olives are processed per sea­son. In 2017, the export value of table olives of Turkey was €95 mil­lion.”


A possible view from the proposed olive route. Photo: Marka Sehir Project

It has been decided to estab­lish an olive route in Balıkesir,” the spokesper­son added. In addi­tion, it is planned to deter­mine the routes, to mark them, to write their coor­di­nates on the map and to deter­mine and imple­ment sup­port­ing infra­struc­ture works.”

When com­pleted, the route will bring plans of the inte­grated olive oil tourism facil­i­ties to fruition, with oppor­tu­ni­ties to visit the olive groves, oil mills, muse­ums and restau­rants.

The lat­ter of these is one of the dri­ving forces of the Urla-Izmir based olive oil pro­ducer, OLivurla, not far from the Hiç olive for­est.

Erdinç and Pelin Omuroğlu estab­lished the farm in 1998, plant­ing 10,000 olive trees and build­ing a mill that is now pow­ered by solar pan­els.

On aver­age, I would say around 1,000 to 1,500 peo­ple visit our olive farm and mill each year,” Pelin Omuroğlu told Olive Oil Times. Our restau­rant has wel­comed over 90,000 peo­ple per year since 2018. We wel­com­ing around 2,000 peo­ple per year in our pro­duc­tion facil­ity and in our olive for­est.”


Demonstrating the importance of olive oil and food at Turla. Photo: Pelin Omuroğlu

Last year, which was the first sum­mer after Covid-19, we had far fewer guests than before,” she added. There were smaller groups of less than 10 and always out­doors.”

Despite the dra­matic impact of the pan­demic, Omuroğlu believes that one of the key focuses on olive oil tourism should be gas­tron­omy, which allows peo­ple to taste a producer’s extra vir­gin olive oil in its own cul­tural set­ting.

Gastronomy and the culi­nary cul­ture of our coun­try has a unique class of food known as cold olive oil dishes or zeytinyağlılar,’” Omuroğlu said. Turkey has the only type of cook­ing selec­tion through­out Mediterranean coun­tries.”

Just like the mas­ter­minds of the Marka Sehir Project, 180 kilo­me­ters north­east of her groves, Omuroğlu wants the gov­ern­ment to focus on olive oil tourism as it works to ramp up pro­duc­tion, with wine serv­ing as a guid­ing light.

The gov­ern­ment plans to increase the olive oil pro­duc­tion capac­ity to one mil­lion tons per year in 10 years,” she said. The Turkish gov­ern­ment is now the owner of the world’s third-biggest olive col­lec­tion and there are many olive har­vest­ing fes­ti­vals all over the coun­try,”

I sug­gest that to issue an olive grove map app of each county and region, just like a wine route,” Omuroğlu added. That would be a very use­ful source for tourists to explore by vari­eties.”

While it will take time for pro­duc­ers to recover from the dev­as­ta­tion of the Covid-19 pan­demic, olive oil tourism oper­a­tors see plenty of oppor­tu­ni­ties to develop the fledg­ling sec­tor in the months and years ahead.


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