Turkey's hard-hit tourism industry hopes soap opera can woo wealthy Arabs

Thu Jun 9, 2016 6:51am EDT
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By Ceyda Caglayan

ANTALYA, Turkey (Reuters) - He's not a trained actor, but Turkish businessman Serdar Ali Abet hopes his television debut - and a mix of cliff-hangers, melodrama and lavish sets - can win fans across the Arab world and help revive Turkey's moribund tourist industry.

Abet, a travel agency owner, had an idea that a soap opera set in the Mediterranean province of Antalya might lure Arab tourists. He has since become a backer of the Turkish-Arab co-produced series, and its unlikely star.

With a budget of $3 million, "Big House" began airing this week on TRT Al Arabiya, the Arabic language channel of Turkey's state broadcaster. Abet thinks its 30-episode run during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan can boost Antalya's visibility and arrest a sharp decline in tourism.

In April Turkey's tourist arrivals saw the biggest drop in 17 years, due to a series of bomb attacks and worsening relations with Moscow after Ankara shot down a Russian warplane over Syria last year. Average hotel occupancy rates are down nearly 70 percent nationally, according to industry data.

"As a tourism executive, I started to think about strategies for boosting the sector. I had the idea of making a series for the Arabic market," Abet told Reuters.

He was inspired, he said, by the Turkish soap opera "Noor", which several years ago became a runaway hit in the Arab world, drawing a record of nearly 85 million viewers for its final episode. It also boosted tourism, with Abet doubling the number of his Arab customers at the time by arranging tours to Istanbul sites that appeared in that show.

When he heard that Saudi comedian Hassan Assiri was looking to produce a series in Turkey, he got in touch and lobbied for Antalya, touting its upscale resorts.

"When I suggested they shoot the series in Antalya they weren't so enthusiastic. But then I took them to see the city, which is luxurious. And Arabs love luxury."   Continued...

Tourists boats are seen in the harbour of the old city center of the Mediterranean resort city of Antalya, Turkey, June 3, 2016. REUTERS/Kaan Soyturk