What brings the end of tulip era in Turkey's tourism campaign?

Turkey has used a tulip logo in its national branding for nearly two decades, but it signaled that a new symbol may be needed next year.

al-monitor Tulips, with the Byzantine-era monument of Hagia Sophia in the background, are pictured at Sultanahmet Square during the 12th Tulip Festival, Istanbul, Turkey, April 22, 2017.  Photo by REUTERS/Murad Sezer.
Pinar Tremblay

Pinar Tremblay


Topics covered


Dec 17, 2018

One of the first actions of Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism in 2019 will be to choose the new symbol of Turkey to replace the long-standing tulip, the emblematic flower of the Ottoman Empire.

The ministry announced last month an advertisement tender to promote the country's tourism abroad and rebrand Turkey. They announced on their website that interested parties need to submit their bids to the Turkish authorities by Jan. 4, 2019, and the tender will start Jan. 8.

Ministry of Culture and Tourism Mehmet Ersoy told the local press that new branding identity, which will include a new slogan and logo, is to be designed and expected to be in full effect by January 2020.

Turkey has been using the logo with the tulip since 2001 — a year before the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power. In 2014, Turkey’s Ministry of Tourism and Culture launched the Turkey Home branding campaign, designed to associate Turkey with the concept of a home” that has hosted many identities, cultures and civilizations throughout history. The campaign did not change the tulip-shaped logo.

The new campaign and branding, however, signals the end of the tulip era. In the Ottoman Empire, the tulip era refers to the period of 1718-30 in Ottoman history — one of the last decades of peace and tranquility right before the empire started to lose its power and influence. Even today, the phrase “the tulip era” is used in daily conversations in Turkey attributing to a time of indulgence, hedonistic joy and pleasure.

Every year in April, the city of Istanbul — the capital of the Ottoman Empire since 1453 — holds a tulip festival. In 2017, more than 26.5 million tulips in 160 varieties were planted in Istanbul’s parks and streets. The Turkish word for tulip is “lale,” and when written in Arabic script it resembles the spelling of Allah.

Jason Goodwin, author of “Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire,” explained to Al-Monitor, “Tulipomania, a fever for beauty, swept through the Ottoman court in Turkey in the early 18th century. The tulips, which everyone admired and extravagantly planted, were the beautiful flowers of Central Asia. Its form was woven into textiles and extolled in poetry as the emblem of the Ottoman royal family.”

The court poets, like Ahmed Nedim — whose death marked the end of the tulip era — also paid homage to the frivolity of the epoch in their ghazals. “Let us laugh/Let us play/Let us enjoy the delights of the world to the full,” wrote Nedim.

“At the same time, curiously, came a new openness to Western art, an Ottoman taste for rococo that was matched by a European fashion for turquerie [Orientalist fashion in Western Europe from the 16th to 18th centuries that imitated aspects of Turkish art and culture]. The first Ottoman ambassadors went abroad, charged with examining the art and architecture of their Parisian and Viennese hosts. … The fairytale was torn to shreds in 1730, the palace destroyed and the sultan deposed in a rebellion led by a second-hand clothes dealer,” Goodwin said.

The tulip design continues to be widely used in 21st-century Turkey — partly because in a land bitter divided on almost all issues, tulips are loved by all.

It is also an image no visitor can forget or escape. It is everywhere: on all ministry publications, at museums, in gift shops, on bags and all other trinkets. So why is the Culture and Tourism Ministry replacing this logo now?

Akan Abdula, the founder and managing partner of FutureBright Research, told Al-Monitor that the change is timely. “The opening of a new tourism communication tender is a move I take seriously. Turkey, due to safety concerns arising from Syria, has lost some its loyal Western tourists,” he said, explaining that new branding will signal that Turkey has restored its domestic security and is ready to bid for the tourists it has lost.

The ministry’s specifications for the advertisement campaign in the campaign information report for the bidders provide figures for the decline in the country's tourism revenues. It says the annual revenues from tourism slid from 2014-17 from over $34 billion to $26 billion. Compared with other countries, the numbers are more alarming. For instance, in 2016-17, the United States received about twice as many tourists as Turkey — 60.7 million to 31.2 million respectively — but was able to earn about nine times more revenue than Turkey — $201.7 billion to $22.5 billion respectively. 

The documents also highlight the ministry’s desire to attract tourists in the upper-income bracket who would spend more per capital while on holidays. The file points out that these tourists would not only be lured by Turkey’s classical sun-sea-sand bid but would want to explore the country’s other offers such as archaeology, gastronomy and newly developing sports areas, such as golf courses.

Abdula said the tender file was well-written, adding, “The ministry wants to reclaim the Western tourists lost to Spain [as well as Greece and France]. This is an admirable act. The new minister, who comes from the tourism sector, has created a couple of major brands in the field of tourism in Turkey. When he took office, he gathered professionals from the private sector around him. His bureaucrats are professionals, and they seem to be moving forward.”

Abdula explained that Turkey no longer wanted to sell just “sun, sea and sand.” “It is good to see they also emphasize [cultural heritage and] museum tourism, which is far behind compared to European tourism norms. Therefore, if you change the balance of the products and underline that you are now a safe country, the ministry must do so in a new communication campaign — a new pitch.”

Asked about shortcomings of the campaign, Abdula said, “A special campaign for Istanbul is needed. The Istanbul brand in the eyes of the Western world is still a bigger brand than Turkey. Of course, Istanbul should not be the only pillar of the campaign, but it merits a specific campaign as well.”

Former Minister of Culture and Tourism (2007-13) Ertugrul Gunay told Al-Monitor, “Turkey was one of the leading tourism locations in the world and in Europe in 2012-13. What helped the country achieve this success was not just the logo and the slogan. At that time, Turkey was on track for full EU membership; its stability, developments in its tourism sector and high quality of service in parallel with social and economic progress were the reasons for high levels of tourism revenue. I hope that along with efforts of new branding, Turkey takes new and positive steps in these areas. Success in tourism cannot be achieved exclusively with slogans.”

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