Turkey straddles Europe and Asia both physically and socially. And its provision for travellers in the new Internet world is far more progressive than Westerners might think.
Turning on a mobile phone in the baggage reclaim area at Ataturk Airport usually lands the visitor with a message from the Avea Tourist Info Service, notifying users that their WAP service will not work in Turkey – but they will kindly supply an alternative, and one which connects direct to the Turkish Airlines website.
Users can view flight details and check in for a return flight, from the handset.
This can set the tone for many visitors as they are often bombarded with SMS and e-mails informing them of tourist and travel-related offers.
A favourite local site is Istanbul.com, an absolute must for anyone travelling or working in Istanbul as it is well produced and also a useful source of information.
Alongside pointing users in the direction of attractions, such as the world famous Cagaloglu Hamami, it has a booking engine for Bosphorus sea trips to the Black Sea with IDO.
It is also a useful portal link to regional or internal travel with links to air, rail and sea companies, but it only gives the best travel times, guides to ticket types and costs and a brief synopsis of the main destinations where users can travel.
Most travel and tourism-related websites have an English interface and are on a par with anything on offer in the UK.
The Turkish Airlines online check-in system offers the usual choice of window or aisle seat but also asks for a preferred language for newspapers. Passengers can also book a free shuttle service from all of the main hotels in Istanbul and are given priority fast check-in status at the airport. And this is even for those flying economy!
Other airlines are similarly efficient in the booking process and in the quality of their sites.
What Turkey lacks is a collection of quality online travel agents. Many regular business travellers use existing ‘off-shore’ sites such as Expedia, Lastminute.com and Opodo, despite a wealth of online tour and travel operators for within Turkey itself.
There is perhaps not the demand as yet for sites for native Turks as much of the focus is on providing online facilities for inbound visitors.
Online travel in Turkey
ARGEUS.COM.TR – portal for internal travel services, but it does not include online booking.
ORIONTOUR.COM – online travel agent with reservation facilities for hotels and car hire. Airlines and rail tickets expected soon.
TURKISHAIRLINES.COM – high-quality site with a range of functions including online booking, check-in and other features.
ONURAIR.COM – no-frills internal airline with easy-to-use online booking system.
ATLASJET.COM / FLYAIR.COM – both airlines offer English language interface but online booking, while available, is in Turkish.
SUNEXPRESS.DE – a German-Turkish venture that offers online booking for internal flights but the choice of destinations is limited to the sun-soaked coastal areas.
TCDD.GOV.TR – state-run rail network has an English language interface for booking all national and international rail services.
TDI.COM.TR – ferry services covering the Istanbul region and elsewhere.
James Thomas is a project manager for Stayinfront – a global vendor of digital CRM products for companies such as Air New Zealand – and has worked for extended periods in Turkey.