SIZE DOES MATTER
Does size matter? ‘Absolutely’, argue the meetings industry representatives of Istanbul. So too thinks Remco Norden, the charismatic director of the largest hotel convention centre in Europe, who is at the head of the 500 member team of the Hilton Bomonti hotel. This is one of the largest hotel convention centres in Europe. Distances and size are all relative in this city of superlatives where even five minutes, which is maybe a measure of distance from your destination, can easily be converted into a completely different travel experience.
The only regional megapolis today has almost 15 million inhabitants, the city spreading in every direction where you out your view. As you walk down Istiklal street you wonder where the path leads the million pedestrians reputed to stream along it every day. Personally, I am delighted, surprised and shocked by the contrasts of the city and the history that accompanies you at every step, peppered with incredible scents and scenery: this is a city that awakens all of the senses. Even the rigorously protected Taksim Square, where policemen armed to the teeth are on the sidelines waiting in a standby mode, is not disruptive to tourists, who just five metres away hustle and bustle through a Saturday evening.
[dropshadowbox align=”center” effect=”lifted-both” width=”900px” height=”” background_color=”#eeb726″ border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]Istanbul meetings flashpoints 1:Hilton Bomonti – one of Europe’s largest convention hotels, which is setting new Hilton standards here.[/dropshadowbox]
Istanbul shares the variety and diversity of the country it is the capital of; its population is so colourful and unique that such a melting pot can only be held together by secular principles. Geographically it belongs to the Middle East, connected together by the Muslim religion as the foundation of the region’s identity. It is no wonder that the city name actually means “Islam Bolu” or place of Islam. This amazing agglomeration of races, nationalities, languages and customs gives it the hugest possible experiential value. In addition, the geographical position in the extreme southern part of the Bosphorus at the Aegean Sea has always been a strategic hub and crossroads between Europe and Asia, and in particular with the Middle East. To describe all the historical attractions that make the city interesting we simply would not have enough space here. At each visit to the city I detect a myriad of new places, which, together with its friendly climate, place Istanbul among the world’s top tourist destinations. The historical core of the Sulanahmet city, which is on the UNESCO world heritage list, is extremely well preserved whilst at the same time besieged by tourists.
The first impression of the city for foreigners is the traffic chaos. After a few days, however, you realise that despite this impression it is actually governed by a kind of order, which is best controlled by taxi and bus drivers. The transport infrastructure is also improving from year to year – new metro lines are planned and the biggest relief for traffic was delivered by a high-tech rail tunnel under the Bosphorus, which connects the European and Asian parts of the city. With the events of Taksim Square the feeling of security is reinforced at every step with thorough screening that you need to get used, also upon arrival at the convention centre or hotel. Guards are ubiquitous in Istanbul. The development of the city to which something between 300 and 500 immigrants arrive on a daily basis is a difficult task. The results are ‘gecekondular’, neighbourhoods constructed overnight. The inhabitants of these parts also have a self-cleaning power, because every day they process tons of waste that remains behind the metropolitan madhouse.
[dropshadowbox align=”center” effect=”lifted-both” width=”900px” height=”” background_color=”#eeb726″ border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]Istanbul meetings flashpoints 2: Basilica Cistern – unusual gala dinner in the largest underground cistern in the world [/dropshadowbox]
One could use the analogy that that the horses on which the Turks once conquered Europe have today morphed into the planes of national air carrier Turkish Airlines. For the third consecutive year it was the best airline in Europe, as assessed by web portal Skytrax. The reason is the extremely friendly service, which is unusual in today’s world of national airlines. In addition, they have significantly changed Istanbul into an intercontinental aviation hub. A large part of the tourism and convention industry success stories is a result of the renewed fleet of 228 aircraft flying to 239 destinations. Thankfully, the whole idea is also supported by policy, as they are starting out on constructing the world’s largest airport on the Black Sea, which will be followed by a sharp increase in market needs. The mega-airport is scheduled to have six runways with a capacity of up to 150 million passengers a year. Already last year Istanbul was visited by a record 10.4 million tourists. The tourism industry is in the middle of a true boom. To illustrate this, 750 aircraft or 82,000 passengers land daily at the airport.
On Harbiye street it is impossible to memorise the names of all the agencies that have found their homes along this avenue. The tourist buzz is endless and the city spins at an incredible speed. Last year, according to the director of the Istanbul Convention Bureau, they acquired 20,000 new hotel rooms. The city has more than 400 hotels of which 76 are of the category 5 *****, 107 being category 4 ****. Lovers of top hotel brands will have a serious problem which hotel from the first league to choose for their event. The restaurant scene is also among the best in the world and special locations are so numerous they cannot be listed. On the Bosphorus there are plenty of specialised outlets for entertainment on all scales. The city lives literally 24 hours a day – even at the seemingly most impossible hours, one does not go hungry.
[dropshadowbox align=”center” effect=”lifted-both” width=”900px” height=”” background_color=”#eeb726″ border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]Istanbul meetings flashpoints 3: Tea time a la Turca – a memorable enjoyment of drinking tea is an unforgettable experience for your conference guests. [/dropshadowbox]
Throughout history Istanbul has been at the crossroads of civilisations and some sort of a meeting point. It offers its congress product through seductive orientalism, which is steadily gaining interest on the global convention scene. Congress facilities are too many to set out here, but the city is easily capable of hosting the largest congress events, as witnessed by last year’s Orthopaedic Congress EFFORT, attended by 7,000 doctors, or the 2009 hosting of the 5th World Water Forum, with over 25,000 participants.
The convention industry is roughly concentrated around three clusters:
– Congress Valley in the city centre, which combines the Istanbul Congress Centre and Istanbul Convention & Exhibition Centre, with the largest hall for 5,000 participants and 11 halls for sections. Around the valley there are 6,000 hotel rooms within walking distance.
– Golden horn includes a slightly more intimate Hallic Congress Centre with a plenary hall for 3,008 participants and a number of smaller halls .
– The Airport Area includes the Istanbul World Trade Centre and nearby hotels. The World Trade Centre has 11 halls, with a total area of over 162,000 m2. An integral part of the cluster are the Grand Cevahir Hotel & Convention Centre, Istanbul Expo Centre and the WOW Conference Centre.
Each cluster has in its surroundings enough hotel rooms to host mega-conferences with over 20,000 participants.
[dropshadowbox align=”center” effect=”lifted-both” width=”900px” height=”” background_color=”#eeb726″ border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]Istanbul meetings flashpoints 4:Club scene at Bosphorus – a club with the most beautiful views of the Bosphorus, Reina, Sortie, Suad and Super club.[/dropshadowbox]
Also new is the huge Hilton Istanbul Bomonti hotel and convention centre next to the 120-year old Bomonti brewery. The largest hall has a capacity of 3,200 guests, thrilling with its exceptional elegance and excellent technical equipment and more than 30 rooms for parallel sessions.
Istanbul has a young population that is innovative and open to different thinking. This was reflected at the recently executed Ace of Mice fair, which was a demonstration of Istanbul’s energy and innovation. Numerous young meetings industry companies compete with one another and are creating new added value. They are very smartly connected by the Istanbul Convention Bureau, which has been acting as a public-private partnership since 1997. The main advantage of Istanbul is that it reorganised its meetings industry and took advantage of its strategic location at the crossroads between Asia and Europe. This is further complemented by exceptional air accessibility, since 50 airlines fly into the city daily.
[dropshadowbox align=”center” effect=”lifted-both” width=”900px” height=”” background_color=”#eeb726″ border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]Istanbul meetings flashpoints 5: Santralistanbul – a special venue in the restored electrical central [/dropshadowbox]
Today Istanbul is some kind of a congress hybrid between regulated western destinations and more exotic congress destinations, and a hybrid between the old and the new that follows you in this incredible city at every step. Options for the organisation of social events are unparalleled elsewhere in Europe. Cosmopolitan Istanbul has come back in full shine and has become one of the top global congress cities. The destination is back in the limelight and is the new global success story. How vital is the image of the city was proven at last year’s protests in Taksim square that did not cause any problems to the meetings industry. Similarly, Turkish Airlines is a symbol of the rise and vitality of the Turkish economy. We believe that the meetings industry of Istanbul will be the new congress success story, for it has already fulfilled almost every condition and at the same time it is still relatively inexpensive.
Destination grade: 4,51– EXCELLENT MEETINGS DESTINATION
5 excellent meetings destination
4 quality meetings destination
3 recommendable meetings destination
2 average meetings destination
A. Natural and cultural factors: 4,74
The most distinctive geographical determinant of the city is the Bosphorus, which separates the European from the Asian part of the city and connects the Marmara and the Black Sea. From the sea the most magnificent landscapes of the city are revealed. Together with the demographic conglomeration, historic heritage and amazing architecture, experientially they are putting Istanbul among the most important global tourist destinations.
B. General and transport infrastructure: 3,84
In the city of excess, despite the apparent chaos everything works more or less normally. In recent times the orderliness of public transport is especially impressive, with two metro lines and other transport that thoroughly interconnect the city. With the planned mega-projects the quality of life is improving as well as the general infrastructure. Most of all it is thanks to the phenomenal and smart growth of Turkish Airlines, which is today the fourth largest airline in the world.
C. Tourist infrastructure: 4,75
A city of scents, flavours and fragrances together with countless tourist attractions that have always been attracting tourists with their oriental touch. It is therefore not surprising that according to the last year’s Master Card Global Destination Index study it is among the ten most successful global destinations in 2013. Ahead of Istanbul are only Bangkok, London, Paris, Singapore and New York.
D. Meetings infrastructure: 4,82
Congress Bazaar of Istanbul offers everything that the heart of a meetings organiser could wish for, in addition to 7 convention centres, 3 fair grounds and almost 100,000 hotel rooms, and the excellently organised Convention Bureau of Istanbul.
E. Subjective grade: 4,25
Caught between traditional and Western culture the city offers one of the most authentic congress experiences in the world. Leaving aside the political instability and security problems it is one of the most competitive destinations in the world, which is also characterised by the genuine hospitality of the locals and their natural gift for business.
Comparisons with the region
Current support of local politics and the economy in the region is more an exception than a rule. Although the country has recently found itself in a whirlwind of protests and political instability, it seems that this does not affect the meetings industry and the Turkish congress tiger is relentlessly growling and overcoming everything set in front of it. If personal hospitality could be combined with the proverbial German precision, the route to congress superstardom would be completely open. Professionalism and entrepreneurship when they are competing for international events is not lacking and they could be setting an example to other convention bureaus. Perhaps the biggest rival is Barcelona, which with its facilities and overall support is also able to host the biggest events.
Istanbul is not in any way missing a whole world of real treats, so to pick just one would be unfair. This time let’s expose the spices that make the food divine, with the easiest way to encounter them at the Grand Bazaar.
Issue: KONGRES MEETOLOGUE 2013