Istanbul – City at the CrossroadsPosted in Istanbul hookups on March 30th, 2011 by admin – Comments Off
As Turkey knocks on the European Union’s door, economic reforms and a bold global outlook are helping to make Istanbul a dynamic business and leisure destination. It may be steeped in unique history, but this is one Oriental city with a thoroughly modern European attitude. (ISTANBUL).
Under leaden grey clouds, our yellow cab moves freely along the edge of the Bosphorus, its inky black waters delivering dozens of fishing boats back to the harbour at Besiktas.
Minarets stretch lazily into a brooding sky, while amateur anglers, collars pulled up against the early morning breeze, dangle bait over the bridges across the city’s Golden Horn. Istanbul may be a city of 14 million souls, but at 6.30am on a cool autumnal morning, there’s not many of them around. A few hours later, it’s a completely different story.
“Isn’t it something?” smiles Murat Duran, as we peer out over a view that would take the breath away from even the roomiest of lungs. “It’s our Times Square, our Piccadilly Circus.”
We’re 18 floors up and the Ceylan InterContinental’s Director of Sales and Marketing is gesturing in the direction of Istanbul’s Taksim Square, where it seems all of Istanbul’s citizens are trying to cross the road at the same time.
From our elevated vantage point, the city’s famed landmarks vie for attention. From the Blue Mosque, Aya Sophia and Topkapi Palace in the distance to Taksim Square below our feet, and the busy Istikal Cadesi thoroughfare taking visitors down to the banks of the Golden Horn, it’s almost as if this patchwork of history has been spread out in anticipation of culture-hungry travellers–something Turkey has worked hard to attract over the past decade.
After years of under-achievement, the Turkish government initiated a process of integrating the Turkish economy into the world market system through radical economic reforms that included the promotion of direct foreign capital investments.
State-funded ventures have given way to a new culture of private enterprise and, with economic growth and unprecedented levels of foreign investment, Turkey is fast becoming a major force in the global economy.
Turkey’s recent all-round progress looks set to continue. The country is going through strong economic growth that has strengthened the currency and reduced inflation from 90 per cent to just 7 per cent. It is one of the last countries in Europe not oversubscribed with products and services, which, in turn, leads many companies to enter a market that was considered highly restrictive until 10 years ago.
Dubai-based Emaar Properties, for example, has entered into a $700 million real estate joint venture with Atasay–Turkey’s largest gold jewellery exporter–with the initial investment to be followed by a further $5-10 billion over the next few years. The European Investment Bank, the EU’s financing institution, is also set to open a representative office in Turkey, allowing it to organise its activities in neighbouring countries from there.
This economic boom has led to many infrastructural improvements across Istanbul, including the construction of a new metro line, an improvement in the road network, and the appearance of impressive new retail outlets, such as the newly opened Kanyon Mall. The mall recently welcomed a 791-square-metre Harvey Nichols store. The brand is making its Turkish debut and joins other fashion houses such as Lacoste, Thomas Pink and Calvin Klein in hot-footing it to Istanbul.
While all this economic development has certainly been welcomed, it has to be said that Turkey has never truly been short of tourists. In 2005, 21.2 million foreign tourists visited the country; while tourism revenue last year of nearly $18 billion was credited to both overseas and domestic visitors.
Turkey has the immense advantage of being able to count on two complementary categories of foreign visitors–mass tourism interested in the coastal resorts and cultural tourism with visits to the historic sites–and in Istanbul it also has a city now among the world’s most exciting conference destinations. It has already been a busy year for the city: during the first six months of 2006 Ataturk Airport saw the total number of passengers and aircraft increase by 10 per cent compared to the same period last year.
“It’s a common saying, but Istanbul is where Asia meets Europe–it’s that simple,” says Eylem Findik, Director of Sales and Marketing at the Radisson SAS Conference & Airport Hotel. “It’s easy to reach, has a fast growing business and industrial area, and a great historical heritage with a taste of modern life.”
Situated just a short walk from Taksim Square, the area known as Conference Valley features leading international and Turkish hotels within walking distance of the city’s top venues, such as the Istanbul Convention and Exhibition Center (ICEC), the Istanbul Hilton Convention and Exhibition Centre, the Military Museum Cultural Centre and the Cemal Resit Rey Concert Hall.
“We’re talking about a huge congress city within walking distance of the major hotels,” adds the InterContinental’s Duran. In the heart of Conference Valley and with 382 rooms (including 55 suites and 71 exclusive club rooms that boast a 60 per cent return rate) and 11 meeting rooms, the Ceylan InterContinental is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.
With so many flights from the Middle East into Istanbul–Emirates and Turkish Airlines operate a daily service from Dubai, while the Turkish city is also well served by other regional carriers, (see Getting There box)–visitors from the Arab world continue to be attracted by the warmth, history and location of Istanbul.
Duran elaborates: “We’re definitely seeing an increase in the number of Middle East customers, with around 10 per cent of our visitors coming from the Gulf region. We aim to give all our guests a real feel for the country. You know, they say it’s easy to find a hotel in Istanbul–our aim is for you to find Istanbul in the hotel.”
There are a total of seven five-star hotels within walking distance of Conference Valley, as well as dozens of three and four-star hotels for a combined total of more than 10,000 rooms. Among them is the glass tower Ritz Carlton which, with a choice of 244 guest rooms, including 23 suites and 57 Ritz Carlton club level rooms, also offers stunning views of the Bosphorus Strait and the Dolmabahce Palace, a compelling symbol of the magnificence and decadence of the 19th-century Ottoman Empire.
“Istanbul’s main competition is not from Middle Eastern destinations such as Doha and Dubai, but from other European destinations like Rome, Prague, and Barcelona,” says Declan Hurley, Regional Director of Marketing and Sales for Europe and the Middle East at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company.
Competition among the five-star hotels appears healthy. The 360-room Hyatt Regency is, like the rest of the luxury properties in Congress Valley, just 100 metres from the metro and two kilometres from the shopping district. Two floors of exclusive Regency Club accommodation comprise 79 rooms and suites, while for those who simply want to get away from it all, the beautiful gardens and spa provide a diversion from the vibrant metropolis just a few metres away.
Next year will bring even more choice for those travelling on business to Istanbul: Kempinski Hotels will add the two-tower Kempinski Residences Istanbul to its existing portfolio. Situated in the main business and commercial district of Esentepe, the two towers will have 108 residences in their upper storeys, available for sale to investors, while the lower storeys will feature 34 exclusive long-stay residences for rental in the first tower, and 28 spacious offices in the second.
Also coming up in late 2007, W Hotels, operated by Starwood Hotels and Resorts, will launch the 130-room hotel W Istanbul as the centrepiece of the redevelopment of the landmark Akaretler Row Houses in the Besiktas area. The historical Row was constructed by Sultan Adbulaziz in the 1870s to house workers of the Dolmabahce Palace.
One of Istanbul’s major selling points is as a gateway city. Not only does this former capital of three empires–Roman, Ottoman and Byzantine–straddle both Europe and Asia, it is also a favourite with cruise operators. Ships and cruisers glide silently into Istanbul ready to ferry thousands of high-end tourists to some of the most luxurious properties in the region.
“There is a great deal of visitors combining a visit to Istanbul with a cruise out of the city,” says Patrick Mossu, Manager of Turkey’s most prestigious hotel address, the Ciragan Palace Kempinski, owned by the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority. Being the Turkish government’s hotel of choice is an honour the Ciragan enjoys almost as much as its tradition and fabulous location.
Dipping its elegant toes into the cool waters of the Bosphorus not far from the city centre, the hotel features 315 spacious rooms including 31 suites, 11 of which are in the restored Ottoman Palace. No wonder six Prime Ministers or Heads of State have had their luggage pass through the hotel’s immaculate hallways in the past three months alone.
With the palace part of the property about to undergo a three-month renovation programme, closely monitored by the government–”We are an antiquity after all,” smiles Mossu–it is obvious that Istanbul is looking to maintain its heritage as much as embrace modernity.
“Istanbul wants to be a modern European city,” adds Mossu. “It’s a city with culture and tradition, as well as a host for the F1 Grand Prix in Turkey. But we still need to do more to educate people as to what is available. I think we need more international marketing of the destination. Once people get here, they see for themselves that Istanbul is a real eye opener.”
Emirates offers one daily flight to Istanbul from Dubai. The business class return fare is $1,310.81. Turkish Airlines also operates one daily flight to Istanbul from Dubai, with a business class fare of $1,029.72. In addition, it offers flights from the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi, on Mondays and Fridays for the same fare. Qatar Airways flies from Doha to Istanbul on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, with a business class return fare of $1,837.83. From Bahrain Gulf Air flies to Istanbul on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays and offers a business class return fare of $1,081.08. Kuwait Airways offers flights from Kuwait City to Istanbul on Tuesdays and Fridays and its business class return fare is $1,540.54. All the above prices are inclusive of taxes.
Topkapi Palace is the home of the Ottoman Empire, from where the sultans ruled their vast domains. Comprising a walled array of turrets and domes over some 173 acres that includes fountains and gardens, the palace is home to a wealth of treasures such as art, armoury and jewels.
The Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia–these two breathtaking structures are just a few metres apart, making a visit to both a must. The Hagia Sophia is renowned as the greatest work of Byzantine architecture, while the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Mosque) features stunning interiors and, of course, the sapphire blue tiles from which it gets its name.
No trip to Istanbul would be complete without a voyage through the tunnels of the Grand Bazaar. This sprawling labyrinth of streets and alleys is home to more than 4,000 shops selling items from clothing and furniture to jewellery and antiques. Istanbul hookups love this place.
The Bosphorus is an intrinsic part of the city, so take the chance to enjoy the strait between Europe and Asia. Boat trips are regularly available and provide the prefect way to admire the city and waterfront palaces and mansions.
Get your flat shoes on and explore the streets of Taksim where bars, cinemas, shops, markets and restaurants dominate the cultural hub of the city. A word of warning though–the streets have their share of touts eager to be your friend and introduce you to certain stores or restaurants.
There are few better nights out than eating and clubbing in Istanbul. Be cool in the ‘Bul and check out the multiple award-winning 360, a glass-walled rooftop extravaganza with a popular bar and a circular view of the metropolis. Or head off (in the summer months) to the world-class, multi-level nightclub Reina, open until the early hours.