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As tourism booms, a push for new models

Two Turkish villages illustrate the impact of radically different approaches to development.

By Nicole ItanoCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / January 17, 2008

Tourism mecca: In the 1970s, the sleepy village of Kemer and its environs were designated as Turkey's first development zone. By 2005, there were 75,000 hotel beds in Kemer.

Melanie Stetson Freeman - staff

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Kemer and Cirali, Turkey

On this strip of Mediterranean coast, two Turkish villages illustrate completely different paths to tourism development.

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Located just 20 miles apart, Kemer and Cirali were once sleepy communities of citrus farmers, nestled between the lush mountains and the cerulean sea. But in the mid-1970s, their paths diverged.

Turkey designated the Kemer area as its first tourism development zone and, with World Bank loans, threw open the doors to builders. Five-star seaside hotels, restaurants, and nightclubs quickly sprouted. By 2005, Kemer had 75,000 hotel beds – triple the number planned.

Cirali stands in sharp contrast – a low-key paradise of family-run bed-and-breakfasts tucked among fruit trees. The sandy beach, bordered by ancient ruins, has been kept free of buildings to protect the nests of endangered loggerhead turtles. Tourism is Cirali's lifeblood, too, but its environmentally conscious accommodations and restaurants are a rare Mediterranean example of sustainable development.

This week, signatories to the 1976 Barcelona Convention meeting in Spain are expected to approve a new convention about coastal development that may help ensure that as Mediterranean tourism booms, there are more Ciralis and fewer Kemers.

Already the world's most popular tourist destination, the Mediterranean's appeal is growing. Drawn by its warm seas, ancient ruins, and unique cuisine, more than 175 million tourists visited the region's coast in 2000. By 2025, that number is expected to grow to 312 million.

Much of that new development is occurring in North Africa and on the Mediterranean's eastern coast, in areas that had previously seen scant tourism.

But the increasing demand for tourist facilities, along with expanding urban sprawl from booming coastal cities, is leading to a loss of about 125 miles of coastline a year, according to the Blue Plan, a United Nations project that examines development and environmental issues in the Mediterranean. Already, 40 percent of the sea's coasts have been built on; without new regulations, such as those being debated in Spain this week, that figure could rise to 50 percent in fewer than 20 years.

"All the tourists who are coming here, of course they bring money, but they also bring so much damage," says Annabelle Cuttelod, who coordinates the Mediterranean Red List – an international list of endangered species – for the World Conservation Union (IUCN). "The Mediterranean is really a place that is used, that is sometimes abused, and for which there is not a lot of concern or support by the rest of the world."

On the frontline of expanding tourism

The booming Antalya region of Turkey, which includes Kemer, is one of the most rapidly expanding fronts of Mediterranean tourism. Between 1990 and 2006, Antalya's tourism capacity grew 140 percent, according to the Antalya Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Almost 40 percent of Turkey's tourist beds are concentrated in Antalya, along a narrow strip coastal land less than a mile wide.

"Kemer is doing business now only because of its name. There is nothing special about it anymore," says Tuncay Cesur, who grew up nearby and now works for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Cirali.