Some of you will have heard that Westminster Classic Tours, a knowledgeable specialist tour operator with a glorious niche product, announced yesterday that it is to cease trading at the end of this season. The small-group cultural gulet (Turkish schooner) tour company went down in characteristic style; which is to say honourably, all debts paid, without any of its clients, suppliers or friends left hanging.
Even so, it joins a lengthening list of recent casualties including Exclusive Escapes, Anatolian Sky and Elixir, one which threatens the final extinction of that critically endangered species; the Turkey specialist.
Westminster closed because, quite simply, reduced demand for its cultural tours left a gaping hole in its balance sheet. Visitor numbers to Turkey are drastically down, and for good reason; the country appears deeply unstable just now.
Even so, Westminster retains a core clientele – fiercely loyal to the company and what it does, utterly enchanted with Turkey, and admirably disdainful of the tiny risk from Islamic or separatist zealots – who are very keen to continue their love affair with the country. They know that southwest Turkey, with its magnificent coastal landscapes, endless sheltered anchorages and clean waters, and a greater density of classical sites than anywhere else on earth, is a truly unique place. And they love experiencing it by traditional timbered gulet, which adds seagoing comfort, swimming from the boat, exquisite food, like-minded company and insightful but unstuffy learning to the mix. I set off next week to lead two gulet tours for Westminster, numbers admittedly down, but nevertheless confident these swan-song trips for Westminster will prove as enchanting as ever, and here’s why:
- Turkish gulet captains and crews, restauranteurs, minibus drivers, guides and the rest may be suffering acutely from the lack of business; that’s precisely why they are demonstrably grateful to those clients, often repeat ones, who have kept the faith with their country. The welcome this summer and for the next few years is likely to be warmer than ever.
- The archaeological sites at the heart of our itineraries have always been a chief glory of southwest Turkey, not only because of their extraordinary natural beauty but because they provide a wealth of precious insights into the ancient world; those who like exploring such places minus the crowds but in the company of knowledgeable experts will find there has never been a better time to visit.
- Turkey has amassed a large gulet fleet over the decades, evidence of the innate popularity of this way of enjoying the country, but during the current crisis a great many of them stand idle at their moorings. There is so little competition for anchorage space that the numerous bays, coves and inlets of our cruising area (between Bodrum and Antalya) are quieter than they have been for perhaps twenty five years.
- Gulet owners are so desperate for bookings that prices are projected to be low over the next few years. This should have a positive bearing on the price of gulet holidays.
I have been leading gulet tours for Westminster for some years now, and have also guided for other companies. In Westminster’s absence, I propose to continue leading tours to southwest Turkey which will remain true to the company’s original spirit: good company, inspirational archaeological site visits, magnificent food, wonderful inshore cruising and an abundance of exceptional swimming spots. The tours will be offered in conjunction with an official operator; details to follow.
I am also interested in leading tailor-made tours for those who would like to cut their archaeology with more demanding walks, or foray inland to take in the interior and its equally giddying sites.
If any of this appeals, let me know! Expressions of interest, however provisional, are very welcome.
For more, visit www.somewherewonderful.com/gulets/