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Interviewer: Nizamettin Şen, Tuğçe Ük
Place: Turkish cafe / Konyaaltı
Date: 23.06.2015



Who is Sema Ece? How did you spend your childhood years?
I was born on a hot summer day in Istanbul on 27 August 1957.My mother was a refined lady from Istanbul and my father was a naval officer. Judging by the 1940s, I can say that we weren’t a typical Turkish family. My mother gave birth to me when she was 35 years old. I spent my childhood in Nişantaşı. I started ballet at the age of four, which was fashionable at the time. My parents divorced when I was four. My father later remarried. I started primary school at Nilüfer Hatun School in Nişantaşı, later on I switched to the Halil Vedat Fıratlı Boarding Primary School in Yeşilköy. Today, many children of divorced parents and those who frequently change schools are dragged into depression. On the contrary, all these things made me a stronger person.

Can you tell us about your education?
As my father was a naval officer we lived in several provinces of Turkey. I went to 2nd, 4th and 5th grade in İskenderun and attended 3rd grade in Gölcük. Having an American military base in Gölcük was an advantage for me. I learned English thanks to the friendships I've built with the Americans. I sat in the entrance exams of the Austrian High School and Üsküdar American High School for Girls and was successful in both. Since I knew English, my father had me registered at St. George's Austrian High School. After finishing 7th grade we moved to the Netherlands because of my father’s work. In the Netherlands, I went to the American International School for a year. When I returned to Turkey I continued my education at the Austrian High School and graduated from middle school in 1964. I chose the 4-year trade department in high school. Here I took courses such as typewriting and business law. I graduated from high school in 1968.

How did you start your business career? Where did you work?
After graduating from high school I decided to go abroad. Together with my friends with whom I graduated we started to work at the German Liaison Office in Istanbul, which sent Turkish workers to Germany. Through my work there I found employment in Hannover and worked in Dunlop in 1969. I returned to Turkey six months later and resumed to work at the German Liaison Office.  I met and married my first husband who was a textile engineer. A company based in Bonn made a job offer to my husband and we moved to Bonn. I started working in the accounting department at this company. My husband began to work at the Müftüoğlu Agency after an offer from a family friend who was involved in Turkish charter flights in Stuttgart. Meanwhile, my son came into the world. As I wasn’t a stay-at-home mum I went into Shell's export company in Stuttgart. Beside my job at Shell I worked as a certified interpreter.

You have worked in a variety of companies and different positions, but how did you step into tourism?
With a proposal from the Ministry we moved to Frankfurt in 1973 to open an outgoing travel agency. Our aim as Anatour Reisen was to send tourists to Turkey, but due to the start of the 1974 Cyprus Operation, the borders were closed and things that didn't work out like we hoped for. At that time Faruk Kılıç, the owner of Delta Reisen that had a market presence and Ergun Güvenç who was responsible for incoming tours to Turkey offered me to close Anatour Reisen and work with them. But instead of working with Delta Reisen in 1974, I started working as the secretary of the Director of Europe at Turkish Airlines. During this time, I married my second husband Erdem Ece. As my husband was the Sales Manager for Turkish Airlines and because of the in-house marriage policy of that company, I switched to the Delta Reisen in 1975.

How did you come to Antalya?
Our adventure in Antalya began in 1976 when my husband was offered a job as the Director of Turkish Airlines in Antalya and Camel Tour, gave me the task of setting up an office in the Antalya region. There wasn’t a single female travel agency manager in that period apart from me. Even Pamfilya Agency, which was also in business at that time, didn’t have a single female employee.

What was it like to be a woman in Antalya in 1976?
Antalya didn’t have a conservative character. There were only three women who knew how to drive. The wife of the Philips representative, Turkish Airlines member Ersin Bey’s wife, who was an English teacher, and I. We weren’t comfortable as women drivers and were harassed by truck drivers. Personally, I wasn’t concerned in Antalya. As a highly confident person who had newly arrived from abroad these things didn’t bother me much. People always maintained a distance to me, because of my demeanour. I could dress more comfortably in those times, but today everyone dresses more conservatively. I will never forget that moment when I was wearing a long denim dress with an open back going my way as usual. Two gentlemen and a lady looking at me called out: “Oh, look at the wife of the Turkish Airline manager.” But it didn’t affect me. Anyway these were rare incidents.

What was the tourism sector like in Antalya?
The centre of Antalya was more open to tourism compared to the districts. There was Motel Antalya and Hotel Antalya. Because it interfered with accounting Hotel Antalya became Talya Hotel. We had a small office on Atatürk Avenue. We could call a nearby place like Lara only through a manual connection. I remember that I had to travel back and forth because I was unable to reach people on the phone. Accommodations like Cennat Motel, Turtel, Kleopatra Motel, Yalıhan were followed by Aspendos and Alara. I’m a person who handles people tactfully and is eager to make them happy. For example, Halıcı Orhan who was a well-known person in the sector always insisted that I should call him Orhan Baba (Father Orhan). I think I've gained both their love and respect. I still keep in touch with their children. Slowly but surely tourism started to develop. Alan Tur was founded in Alanya.

Did women begin to take an active role in tourism starting with you? Do you think you’re a role model?
I have many women employees. I increased the number of my female staff when we moved across today’s Hotel Talya.

How are you as a manager? What was your relationship like with your employees?
Employees would never smoke next to tourists. I went to unannounced checks on airport employees. I paid attention to the cleanliness of toilets in historical sites. So I often went and inspected. I was a disciplined person having lived in Germany and because my father was a soldier. As Camel Tour we launched hunting tourism in 1980. I took part in hunting trips, because I wanted to experience everything for myself and give customers the best possible service. On the return trip back, I used to hand out cognac bottles which I previously bought from the liquor shop and pasted with the labels of the Camel Tour logo.

What was the social life like for women in Antalya?
In 1984, I was the only woman from Antalya in the jury of the Antalya Film Festival. I served alongside Sadri Alışık, Memduh Ün and Çolpan İlhan. We established the Soroptimist Assocation and Skål Club in 1985. Many women from different sectors were involve d in the establishment of the Soroptimist Associaiton. I remember names like Özlem Egen, Olcay Özkan, Esen Uluç from that period.

What have you done in parallel with the development of tourism in Antalya?
In 1985, Erol Bey asked me to leave Camel Tour. They went through a restructuring. A joint company was established in 1985 by TUI, Tan and Pamfilya in order to run TUI’s operations. Nuri Kavur, Yaşar Sobutay and Tuna Ekman were its partners. I worked there as a manager and associate between 1985-1987. We went to Hannover with Tuna and Yaşar. The company wasn’t in good shape. Yaşar told me to come and so did Tuna, but these kinds of approaches didn’t fit my style. It was a reconstructing according to TUI’s needs. While TUI was considering to stay with Pamfilya it chose to continue with Tantur. Since I don’t like quandaries I switched to Vitur in 1987, which was involved in the outgoing operations of Aquarius. My transfer to Vitur happened this way. I knew Vedat İrdelp from my school years. During a meeting in Frankfurt, he suddenly announced that Sema Ece was going to take over Vitur in Antalya. Dear Yaşar and Rengin were returning from the USA. I phoned them to tell that I wanted to leave. Vitur was also having difficulties at that time. The period between 1987-1992 was a time for recovery and the Aquarius Club was established. I continued as a manger in the club for a while. Vitur became more active. The number of hotels and incoming travel agencies increased. The conditions for tourism improved. There was a shortage of diesel fuel in the years after the 1980 military coup. I remember having often met with the Governor to buy diesel fuel. We organised tours to Anatolia, but didn’t have enough fuel to keep the busses running. I was in Frankfurt during the coup. I was staying with a German friend of mine. My friend said to me that I’m definitely not returning to Turkey. I was relieved and returned happily to İzmir. I was happy about the intervention after all of the events that happened, because what we went through was awful. At that time the Turkish airlines office was opposite the Grand Hotel. Erdem had just brought Ömer from school. Someone fired shots on our Volkswagen Beetle. If this happened five minutes before, Erdem and Ömer would have been in that car. My point is that it was simply impossible to get out to the streets. We were at Atatürk Avenue. There was a queue at the liquor store. People were going to buy cigarettes. All the tourists were asking us whether anything was being distributed for free.

A great change began with the onset of mass tourism in Antalya. What has changed for women?
The beginning of mass tourism and advancements in technology made tourism much more enjoyable for us. We were doing our job with pleasure before, but the conditions were very harsh. During the Haj season, pilgrims went to the Haj with busses.  We used to implore bus drivers to stay and promised them twice the amount. The heat was unbearable and the busses had no air conditioning. Slowly but surely conditions began to improve, as did the desire to become involved in the tourism sector. We brought professionals from the tourists’ own countries to serve them in their own languages. My range of incoming tourists in Vitur further expanded. The tourists came from countries like Germany, The Netherlands, Scandinavia, Finland, Switzerland, France, Italy, Austria… Of course, people started to ask me why I wasn’t opening my own agency and made me offers. It was incompatible with my work ethic. I was the person who made all the outgoing contracts in the agencies I worked at, so the moment I opened my own agency I would draw all of the tourists. This situation would have been highly unethical.

Incoming tourists and foreigners who came to work here brought along a way of life. As you were raised close to their culture how was your dialogue with them?
They both liked me and held me in high regard. I was a kind, but also firm manager. It was very comfortable working with them, because In terms of language and in terms of knowing the job they could trust me when I told them what to do.

In this case, did you have an advantage of being a woman? In terms of acceptance and sympathy?
We received both young men and women from abroad. I can say that they were more amenable. Even in Europe at that time, a female manager was out of the ordinary. This number has increased as the years progressed. Maybe we are unaware of these changes during the course of our lives. Now this issue has become more relevant.

Did you provide training to the women you worked with? Did you give women priority during the hiring process?
Naime worked in accounting. Since Münciye was working for Turkish Airlines she directed Naime to me. Nevin Tüzün was Atalay Tüzün’s niece. I received more and more applications. Having a woman at the head of the office convinced families in Germany to send their daughters with a peace of mind. It wasn’t enough if they told me that they knew German. What else they knew was more important. But all of them were industrious and had a keen understanding. Like I said, I was a gentle but firm manager. Whenever I pushed someone’s buttons, they thought that I wasn’t too fond of them. However, I only nudged those who showed promise and would pull off difficult tasks. But they discovered that. The people I didn’t exert much pressure, left after 2-3 days.

You continued to work at Camel Tour from 1992 – 1997. How did this homecoming happen?
Vitur Vedat’s tourism vision was outstanding. Unfortunately, they lacked the necessary managerial skills and had no business vision. As the new Camel Tour we started our winter operations in the year when SunExpress was founded. In January when we were expecting our first incoming flight it snowed in Antalya for the first time in a long period. The Iron Curtain had just come down. We first went to Moscow with the late Mustafa Çalık.

How did you feel as the first woman tourism professional in Moscow?
There was a lot of confusion. They didn’t know anything about tourism. You are at a tourism fair, but you receive other commercial offerings. In the meantime, they had a mentality of trying to start this or that venture with you. We stayed for a week. It was quiet interesting. I made 1-2 business deals there. We started in Poland. It was difficult to work in Russia. People were uninformed. I left Camel Tour in 1997 when Ergun Bey wanted to rejuvenate the company.

How did you end your tourism career?
I started to work at Orantur in 1997. I got into a completely different type of tourism. This bothered me. I was entitled to a pension in Germany. All the agencies where I worked at insured me from Germany, though at the minimum level, because I did some outgoing work there during the winter months. In 1999, I couldn’t return back from Frankfurt for a while because of my health problems and my treatment continued. Slowly I began to realise that it was time to quit and that the heydays were over.

How do you assess the changes in social life as a woman? Antalya received a lot of migration. The city also underwent social and cultural changes. Did a new pattern of urbanisation and urban texture arise in Antalya?
Yes, it did. I was removed from these changes. After my treatment and convalescence process in 1999, I lived in Frankfurt and Istanbul for a longer period. I couldn’t come to Antalya for some time after 2002. So, these changes were quiet sudden for me. Many different hotels were built. Life in Antalya was transformed with tourism.

Is there anything that bothers you as a woman in Antalya? Has this change brought about a more relaxed and more European atmosphere?
There are many things that bother me in Turkey. The disrespect of people and the littering. I live in an apartment complex. People smoke in elevators and discard their cigarette butts inside. There was a lot more respect in the past. This isn’t particular to Antalya, but to the whole country. It used to be easier being a woman and a working woman.