Homes into hotels

Travel writer Pat Yale lives in Turkey. Here she describes seeing at first hand the social impact of tourism on picturesque Göreme, where she bought a cave house almost twenty years ago.


c Bernardo Ricci ArmaniWhile I’ve lived in Göreme, it’s grown from a remote Anatolian village with tourism on the side to a full-blown tourist resort and a destination in its own right. The changes I’ve seen tourism bring here have largely mirrored those that have taken place all over Turkey. Some of the most momentous ones happened in the early years after I came to live here, between 1998 and 2006 when I started to write about life in the town.

It was in those years that I watched as my neighbours could finally stop doing their washing while bent over plastic bowls on their roof, as new hire-purchase arrangements made it possible for even relatively poor families to invest in washing machines. Fridge-freezers became a staple even for households that had hitherto coped by storing perishable items inside their caves and crossing their fingers. And all children started to stay on at school, which meant that whereas village women my own age often can’t read and write, all their daughters are now literate.

In those early years there was only one hot-air balloon company, and although hotels were proliferating and there was already one mahalle (neighbourhood) with just one resident family left in it, life in my own mahalle continued in much the way it had always done, with neighbours popping in and out of each other’s houses, tea parties a regular occurrence and the women still making most of their own household linens and almost all of their own food.

Those days are gone, though. Today I am one of the last residents in my mahalle, and my house is now hemmed in on all sides by hotels. House prices, even rents, have soared, so most of my neighbours have sold their old, damp cave homes as hotels and moved with glee into modern apartments in Nevşehir, Avanos and Ürgüp.

It’s not just hotels that have proliferated, either. There are now more hot-air balloon companies than I care to count, and every day, even in winter, up to 100 balloons take to the skies at dawn. The money earned from those flights has transformed Göreme’s economy. Without it, my hotelier friends could make only the usual income from running an accommodation business, then selling food and tours. With tourists queuing up to fly, though, they can quickly bump up the take from each guest, so that people from once poor families dependent on the vagaries of agriculture for a living are now wealthy enough to holiday all over the world and send their children to universities overseas.

It has been an extraordinary experience to watch this transformation unfold. I don’t doubt that there will be more change to come in the next few years, and not necessarily so positive. We’ve seen in Tunisia how politics can suddenly derail a prosperous tourist industry. Now Turkey’s tourist industry is also facing troubled times, as war engulfs the country’s eastern border and even hotels on the coast begin to see downturns in bookings. Will tourists continue to flock to Göreme despite the current turmoil? Or will the dawn skies soon be empty again…?

Pat Yale’s most recent project is to record her recent journeys across Turkey retracing the travels of extraordinary writer and explorer Gertrude Bell in her lively blog, Following Miss Bell, soon to be a book.

Image kindly supplied by Bernardo

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