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06.03.2007

The boom and bust of Alanya's riviera

DAMARIS KREMIDA


Twenty years ago Alanya was known as a village, famous for its virtually intact medieval fortress providing excellent views of the mountains and beaches that surround it, particularly popular among tourists seeking a quiet holiday. Now in the kaleidoscope of the cultural transformation of Turkey's southern coast – with the influx of Europe's ageing population and foreigners investing in property here – a Danish element has been added to Alanya's predominantly German mix. Real estate agents and construction companies had been catering to the increasing Danish population over the last three years. However, after a year of restrictions on tapus (property deeds) for Danish citizens, who made up 80 percent of the buyers' market, Alanya's construction and real estate industry is trying to recover from the buying freeze and win back the skeptical Danish.

Last year Danish citizens weren't allowed to get property deeds in Turkey. Alanya's construction and real estate industry, which over the last three years has been dependent on sales to the Danish, suffered more than other Turkish coastal cities such as Fethiye, which draws more British buyers. Shops in the center of Alanya cater to its international population with Irish pubs, a brewery house and shops sporting signs in different languages. The German and Danish associations in particular are active with cultural events and activities, such as dance socials, and the municipality has even created a special committee made up of foreigners in order to provide better public services.

According to figures released by Alanya's Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ALTO), Alanya's economy has heavily relied on the tourism and construction sectors. In the last three years over 1,000 construction firms had opened while in 2006 one out of every three businesses that opened was a construction, development or real estate firm. Foreign capital in the city has also played an important part in the economy. In 2005 the number of companies in the sector (includes construction and real estate firms), which had foreign capital, reached an all time high of 180 - compared with 50 in 2004 and seven in 2003.

Alanya based Al-Con Construction Director Bo Weber Christensen, the only Dane in the company, told the Turkish Daily News that in the past four years his company had sold about 1,200 units almost exclusively to Danes and he estimated that in the same amount of time 3,000 Danes had bought property in Alanya. While property values in previous years increased up to 40 percent annually, last year property prices remained stable. “Danes couldn't get “tapus,” and then that problem got cleared up, but they [the Danish] are still afraid of the market,” he said.

Christensen said he believed the temporary change in law was a Turkish reaction to Danish laws that dictate that if a Turkish citizen wants to get residence and buy property in Denmark they must live in the country for five years. He said that the Danish cartoon crisis in the fall of 2005 regarding portrayals of Mohamed didn't help either. “That turned into a Euro-crisis, but people are coming back now slowly but surely.” Earlier this month in an effort to boost Turkish construction in Alanya, Taner Yalçın owner of Al-Con organized a meeting with other construction firms to lobby everyone's support and to find ways to collaborate with the common aim of further developing the construction industry in the city.

In the meantime Al-Con is looking for other markets. Alanya, built up along its long coast and enclosed by mountains, attracts northern Europeans, especially Danes and Dutch, who want to vacation or invest. Christensen said that Alanya reminds him of Costa del Sol in Spain. “If you put me in the center of Alanya and didn't tell me where I was, I'd think I was in Malaga,” he said.

Donna Boyle, 36, editor-in-chief of the Riviera News, a local bi-monthly newspaper, said that Alanya has some “great” complexes with tennis courts, Jacuzzis and marble floors, the latter always a favorite among foreigners who can't find affordable marble in their northern European countries. “The best contractors are really catering well for the European luxury market,” she said.

One of Alanya's structural challenges is that it consists of small municipalities with different building standards. In Mahmutlar, buildings with up to 13 floors have been built beside the sea, while in Oba only six floors can be built, indicating the lack of a unified building policy in the area. In recent years building permits were given to build on the mountain, areas of which are already filled with apartment complexes. However with recent regulations there are limitations to where and how much contractors can build. The coast is now an endless line of apartment buildings. Boyle, who belongs to the city's committee of 20 foreigners acting as the voice of the foreign community in the city said “they've really covered it [Alanya] in concrete.”

City plans to green up the coast:

A short mustached man in his late forties, Kemal Dere, the mayor's assistant, rolled out a map of the city of Alanya with the surrounding municipalities to show TDN the plans to redirect traffic from the coast, the heart of the city, to a highway which will pass by the mountainside. By closing off the street “at the [western] entrance of the city alone we will gain 26,500 square meters of green area, parks and pedestrian areas,” Dere said. “From the east we are working with other municipalities to free up 6 kilometers of the coast.” This winter they are preparing a total of 54,680 square meters of pedestrian and park areas and the mayor's office hopes they will be done by summer when the tourism season starts.

From the window of his office these days he can see the sea and workers who have already started beautifying the coast and working on walkways. “We are doing it to serve people - to make both the people of Alanya and our guests happy,” said Dere.

Villagers in the city or urbanites in the village?:

In his dark real estate office, a realtor in his fifties, said the new plans were too late as now the coast is covered in cement. “Especially the mayor of Alanya is trying hard to make parks but it's too late. There's no public space.” Locals, most of whom sold their land along the sea, “weren't prepared for the property boom and aren't educated, so they didn't take care of the infrastructure,” he said.

The realtor, who refused to give the TDN his name or business card, said that locals still had a villager mentality and don't know how to live in apartment buildings with other people, nor are they used to “city life.” “Even locals don't know how to live in an apartment. This is city culture. Turks normally can't afford to buy [apartments] and the locals don't want to live with foreigners in apartment buildings. They want a house with a garden and with neighbors to chat with,” he said. “They had donkeys 10 years ago and now they have four wheel drive vehicles.”

At the Alanya Danish association's first ever square dance event on the top floor of one of Turkey's few breweries, Redtower, some 30 retired British, Dutch, Germans, Danes and Turks gathered to dance. The Dutch gathered at a table told the TDN that they started coming to Alanya for vacation 20 years ago and finally some of them bought property in the mid-nineties. In 1996 one couple said they bought their first 100 square-meter apartment for 27,000 euros, but had to move in 2001 as they said they got fed up with their Turkish neighbors who wouldn't pay for utilities: “The Turks wouldn't pay for general expenses. Now we live with Europeans and Turks who pay. If you can buy an apartment for 75,000 euros, you'll pay expenses,” one of them explained. 

They said they also remembered the days when the town was more of a village, you couldn't get a decent bag of coffee beans, and there was only one supermarket in town. “There was no good coffee, like the bread. Then the Germans came and we got proper bread,” they said. In those days they imported the coffee and espresso makers from Holland on trips back home. Now there are more supermarkets and good coffee ranging from YTL 10 to more expensive Italian brews for YTL 54. “That's for Christmas,” said another one of the Dutch men.

Rozila and Asge Brun-Anderson, who organized the square dancing evening, said that they wanted to have dances every week in an effort to build a cultural and social bridge with Turkish people. “Maybe next time we can do Turkish dance,” said Rozila. So, should more foreigners come to town? “Let them come, there should be room for everyone,” said Rozila. 

SELMA ŞENOL

ISTANBUL - Referans

Realtors in Alanya to market to Norwegians and Finns:

Due to restrictions on the Danish buying property in Alanya, construction firms are searching for new markets. Ali Hancı, one of BH construction company's partners and a member of the Alanya municipality's tourism commission, said that the void created by the Danish market will be filled by Norwegians and Finns. As they don't have as many restrictions in getting property deeds in Turkey, he said the process will be simpler. "From now on Alanya's head of the office for registration of deeds will be able to give out property deeds without asking for permission from the Aegean district military command because the military has started sending strategic and military information to the property deed offices. This way, foreigners can receive property deeds in two to three days if they meet all official requirements. We think this will partially ease the sector,” he said.

Hancı underlined that foreigners look for small but socially “large” housing areas.

“Their lifestyles are very different. All they want is a bedroom and a living room; that's enough for them. They feel that more rooms would be a burden for them with the furniture, and the cleaning. But in the complexes where they buy homes, social activities are very important. They ask for things like a sauna, indoor pool, fitness center and Turkish bath,” he said. BH Construction, which builds houses for foreigners, currently has three projects in Tosmur, Mahmutlar and in the center of town.