An expat’s modern adventure in the tourism sector
An expat’s modern adventure in the tourism sector
When someone tells you that they work in tourism, do you really appreciate what that entails and what kind of person you’re talking about?
Amongst other things, you need to be extremely flexible and have a sense of adventure to survive in the sector, Corinna Sommer-Boncuklu explained. Corinna’s the perfect example of how to make working in tourism a success. After doing a variety of jobs (she’s a trained nurse and was a marketing assistant in a German bank and an au pair in Italy), she took the plunge in 1993, starting out as a representative in Majorca and was transferred to Turkey in 1994. She hasn’t looked back since.
A challenge if ever there was one
“Living abroad has changed the way I think and my perception of the world,” Corinna pointed out, adding that “working in a country is, of course, quite different to visiting, and I’ve always loved making friends with the locals and discovering how they think and live. I’ve lived in different countries such as Sri Lanka and Spain. I’ve seen lots of different lifestyles and met very rich and very poor people, and both are still close friends. I’ve also learned a lot about different religions; what most impressed me when I was working in Sri Lanka was that on the same street you find a mosque, a church and Hindu and Buddhist temples. Even now, after being in Turkey for 15 years, I still discover something new about the people, the culture and the country every day.”
On a professional level, you learn more about the sector with each job. “Tourism is such a vast sector that offers a wide range of job opportunities to suit all kinds of people,” she highlighted, adding that “it has always been important for me to develop my career no matter what I’m doing, and in my first job I had the chance to work in different departments of the company. I started out as a representative and then transferred to office-based work. As I stayed with them for 12 years, I was able to learn what it meant to be a secretary, a cashier and a member of the airport crew. I also worked in their flight department and in customer service. Later on, I was also an assistant manager, an area manager. Every year the company offered several seminars, and I made a point of attending at least one.”
But it’s no bed of roses
“There are downsides to working in tourism, however,” she explained, adding that “the most frustrating aspect of tourism is seasonal contracts, which mean constant job insecurity. Most people are on seasonal contracts in Turkey, and after the summer they never know whether they also have work for the winter. Even if they do manage to get winter work, they also end up having to take non-paid vacations, depending on bookings. Representatives have at least two months’ unpaid vacation each year, and hotel staff quite often only work three weeks out of four every month in the winter. If they don’t work, they don’t get paid, of course. You can’t talk about working in tourism without highlighting the terrible hours we work sometimes. I’ve worked 20 hours a day even though my contract stated that we wouldn’t be paid overtime for extra hours or for working weekends and public holidays. I’ve even ended up working New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day at times. As many as 80 percent of new staff don’t last their first season, but I stuck it out because I could see the benefits of working in tourism.”
Then there’s the effect that a job in tourism has on your private life. “At first I only socialized with other people who worked in tourism. Luckily my husband also works in tourism, so there’s never a problem if one of us comes home really late. It would be very difficult to have a relationship with someone who worked outside tourism because of the long hours in general or because of the night shifts we have to do sometimes. Another potential problem is that even if your partner also works in tourism, you could actually find yourself separated for half the year depending on where your company sends you that season.”
Emerging market: Wedding tourism
The Antalya region is associated with package holidays, so is there anything new on the horizon? “Wedding tourism is becoming more popular,” Corinna pointed out, adding that “according to recent figures, from 1998 to 2009, the sector expanded by 400 percent worldwide, and every year an estimated 650,000 couples choose to get married and to honeymoon abroad. As İstanbul will be the European Capital of Culture next year, it’s expected that around 65,000 couples will come to Turkey to get married and spend their honeymoon here.”
Do couples really need to go through a specialist agency? “Getting married abroad can be a bit of a minefield as the rules and regulations vary from country to country,” she explained, adding that “some people who come to Turkey just want help with the paperwork, and as the wedding ceremony is in Turkish, they often need a translator, too. All the couples I helped get married in Turkey while working at my last company told me that they couldn’t have done the paperwork, health checks and blood tests without help from someone who knew what they were doing and who could speak Turkish.”
So why are more couples choosing to get married in Turkey and not somewhere more exotic like Seychelles or Las Vegas, the wedding capital of the world? “Most couples have been to Turkey before and love the country,” she highlighted, adding that “for couples from Europe, it’s also cheaper to get married in Turkey than in Seychelles or Las Vegas. And, of course, Turkey also offers a wide range of romantic locations where one can get married and then go on a honeymoon. Last year Wedding City, based in Antalya , organized 23 weddings, and their most recent venture is to offer week-long group weddings in Demre, the site of the Church of St. Nicholas, at specific times of the year, for example during European or Russian Christmas. Other than locations, Turkey also has many administrative advantages: It only takes a few days (not months) to get the necessary paperwork processed before getting married in Turkey; couples don’t have to wait weeks to get their marriage license (they are given it right after the ceremony); and there’s no minimum residency requirement in Turkey.”
One major criticism of the mass tourism sector is that a lot of the income generated stays outside the country. Now that Turkish companies — as opposed to the larger, well-established foreign vacation companies — are getting involved in wedding tourism, it’s more likely to have a positive impact on the local economy. “There are no specific figures available for this sector of the tourism market yet,” she explained, “but it would be fair to estimate that businesses such as local florists, hotels, caterers or car rental services could double their annual incomes this way.”
Despite the ups and downs of working in tourism, Corinna continues to be enthusiastic about her profession. She recently started working for a Turkish company — Polente Tours — which, offering beach vacations and cruises around the country, also organizes special interest vacations such as golfing, history, art or religious tourism. “As last year was the year of St. Paul, they started a tour to places St. Paul went when he was in Anatolia, and they’re enthusiastic about organizing tailored vacations for both groups and individuals,” she explained. It looks like Corinna won’t have a dull moment.
Resource: Today’s Zaman