ABOUT KERIM

kerim-sipahiler

Kerim Sipahiler is the Founding Partner and CEO of Sipahiler Events, an international event management company, where all phases of events are managed. Sipahiler provides services for a wide range of event types including corporate events, product launches, protocol receptions, conferences, panels, seminars, art exhibitions, and more. Kerim is also the Founding Partner of Istanbul TALKS Conferences and the President of SITE Turkey, a community of professionals with the aim to maximize the business impact of motivational experiences. Site Turkey provides educational seminars and information services to those who design, develop, promote, sell, administer, and operate motivational programs.

TALKING BUSINESS

Q: What is the secret behind a successful MICE destination?

It should be accessible, meaning it should have an international airport like Atatürk Airport, which has lately become an international hub and a major advantage for Istanbul. The city itself should have soul; city vibes are very important because wherever you go you need that special spirit. Istanbul has that spirit and it has vibes, a vivid social life and a variety of high-quality events, venues, hotels, and services. I think Istanbul really stands out in those respects and every single 5-star hotel you visit will offer great service and hospitality.

The question of security is still the issue we cannot avoid. We spoke about this topic at this year’s ACE of MICE together with SITE global president Rajeev Kohli. Rajeev, a great supporter of Turkey, told me that on the international list of unsecured countries India is ranked in 6th place and Turkey in 14th – security is a matter of perception. In my opinion, we are not doing much to change that perception at the moment, not as an industry, not as a government, nor altogether. We should step together and hand in hand give out one single, positive message.

Back to the question, the hosts should also be friendly, just like the people of Istanbul. Quality service in agencies and DMCs is also very important and, finally, networking is the key to developing a successful MICE destination.

Q: What trends do you think we will see in meetings and events in Istanbul over the next year?

Taking the actual situation into consideration I foresee that most of the events will be corporate local ones unless we change people’s negative perception because there are still some issues to be solved. By ‘local’ I also mean with international companies included.

There will also be some international sport and art events, but in terms of major congresses, unfortunately, I think not much will change. The indications for incentive events are quite the same, so business here will be slow since most corporate incentive businesses come from Europe. Changing the image of Istanbul should be a number one priority.

kerim-sipahiler

Q: How well developed are teambuilding and incentive products in Istanbul?

Incentive products are very well developed. The MICE industry, including its incentive segment, is also very well developed in terms of quality, pricing, and staff.

“With our hardworking people, great creative teams and a love of technology, my colleagues in the meetings industry can create magical things in just 24 hours.”

Q: How popular is Istanbul as a destination for corporate events and incentives now?

Before June 7, 2015, we were number 6 among the most popular destinations worldwide. We are now way below this number and business has become slow, but with our experienced teams and well developed industry we should bounce back soon.

Q: Every year I am impressed by the creativity of the local congress scene and all the creative people living here. In Europe we have to work inside new frameworks to satisfy the needs of widespread start-ups, so do you have any such niche MICE offerings?

Let me give you an example from our own company. We created a brand last year called Istanbul Talks. It is a new generation of conferences, with setups for content, powerful speakers and venue design. This is a perfect practice case for what you described. Last year our first keynote speaker was Richard Branson. He came to Turkey after one of the bomb blasts and gave a speech, saying we had to stand together. This is the only problem in Turkey: state authorities and industry professionals need to work together.

Q: Who represents the greatest competition locally and internationally?

During ‘normal times’ the biggest competition internationally would be cities like Barcelona, Paris, Vienna, London, Berlin. Locally I would mention Dubai, and maybe Athens, but the latter is not competitive in the same category. So, all the big boys from Europe, and the Middle East if we only look regionally.

“The biggest challenges are perception, security, and pricing. Many of our colleagues dropped their prices to attract business, but when circumstances go back to normal it will be very difficult to increase them again.”

Q: What are the three biggest challenges and biggest difficulties you face in terms of event planning?

Nowadays the biggest challenges are perception, security, and pricing. Many of our colleagues dropped their prices to attract business, but when circumstances go back to normal it will be very difficult to increase them again. I think those are the most important issues we have to handle. Other factors are not as important. With our hardworking people, great creative teams and a love of technology, my colleagues in the meetings industry can create magical things in just 24 hours.

Q: If there is one area where you would like to see an immediate improvement, what would it be?

I would love to have more historical and creative venues open to MICE functions. If we are hosting large groups, venue options are shrinking and we don’t have a lot of possibilities. Of course, there are conference halls, but they are not as compelling. In open historical areas, like docks and train stations, there are other issues with acquiring permissions and alcohol consumption. We hope ICVB will help us bring the voice to the decision makers.

Q: What do you see as the crucial marketing elements to impress meeting planners?

With the right channels and methods of communication, I think Istanbul’s soul and vibe sell itself. We have to use contemporary means of communication, such as digital media, but the key is, and I am repeating myself, that the government and the industry should professionally spread the same message. Istanbul is still beautiful and it is still safe, and I think we are able to do that with the help of contemporary means of communication and media.

“With the right channels and methods of communication Istanbul’s soul and vibe can sell itself. The government and the industry should spread the same message. Istanbul is still beautiful and it is still safe, and I think we are able to do that with the help of contemporary means of communication and digital media.”

Q: What do you see as the crucial marketing elements to impress meeting planners?

With the right channels and methods of communication, I think Istanbul’s soul and vibe sell itself. We have to use contemporary means of communication, such as digital media, but the key is, and I am repeating myself, that the government and the industry should professionally spread the same message. Istanbul is still beautiful and it is still safe, and I think we are able to do that with the help of contemporary means of communication and media.

Q: Your best incentive idea in Istanbul?

The incentive events depend on the briefing we get from the client. I have one very creative project in mind, but I would like to keep it a secret for now. More generally I would use the beautiful area of the Bosphorus channel and do something with the water.

Q: Do you see your company as a marketing or a DMC agency?

We are a creative event agency with a DMC extension. We have an in-house art director with four employees. We do the concept in-house and we are one of the pioneers of that. Altogether we have 40 employees and with that come big overheads. Some competitors have fewer overheads, but we compete with them on other qualities.

We are a private company established by me and my wife in 1994 and soon we will open a European office, as we have a strong network with selected agencies from European countries, where we work mainly in the banking and IT industries. For creating great events a big role is played by our powerful domestic and international suppliers. We are one of the few agencies that have its own conference brand.

ABOUT SITE TURKEY

Q: Can you tell us something more about SITE Turkey?

SITE has internationally set goals like education and creating awareness regarding the incentive industry. When I took over the presidency more than a year ago, I envisioned another purpose, which was shared with the board of directors. Our new goal is to unite the meetings industry, make it stronger, give it a voice and influence the economy and politics. The meetings industry is more than just a part of tourism; it includes communication, sales, and marketing. First, we need to recognize our own value and power, then – in order to be taken seriously – present them to the government. For now, this is the main mission of SITE Turkey. To accomplish this we are organizing very successful monthly gatherings of an informative and networking nature for MICE professionals. Another important project we are working on at SITE is an educational mentor/mentee program, where we provide mentorship for young industry professionals and university students. In general, our purpose is to unite various associations, to create a strong message and to be great ambassadors of the Turkish meetings industry abroad.

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