Istanbul cultural clashes: a travel deterrent?

ISTANBUL, Turkey – Only two weeks ago, Taksim Square was the epicenter for CEOs and presidents of the world’s largest hotel chains and international hotel investors coming to Turkey for the Turkey

Istanbul cultural clashes: a travel deterrent?

ISTANBUL, Turkey – Only two weeks ago, Taksim Square was the epicenter for CEOs and presidents of the world’s largest hotel chains and international hotel investors coming to Turkey for the Turkey & Neighbors Hotel Investment Conference (CATHIC) at The Marmara Hotel Taksim. From the terrace of the hotel, the international delegates where looking down on a peaceful Taksim Square with the old tramway passing by and pointing out to the green line of trees in a world of concrete in Gezi Park where young people were celebrating a peaceful sit-in with music and picnics, and then everything changed.

Igniting, Innovation and Growth was the motion of CATHIC 2013
“Within the framework of giant projects, around a $400 billion investment is now expected in the real estate sector,” the Deputy Chairman of Turkey’s Association of Real Estate Investment Companies, Ozlem Gokce, said on May 29, the first day of the event.

“The tourism sector is growing 300 percent every year, so we expect to see 60 million tourists in 2013,” she said.

But how much growth and how many more gigantic projects can Istanbul and Turkey digest without losing its own identity?

A survey and market overview provides great potential for developers, and Turkey’s hotel development pipeline includes more than 8,500 rooms set to enter the market by 2015 states HVS.

“Turkey has established itself as a hub of thriving hotel development, and 2013 shows no sign of slowing down. The future for Turkey looks positive; Istanbul has shown a robust growth of 15.7% due to strong corporate and leisure,” said Defne Gezen, Vice President of Hotels & Hospitality Group, Jones Lang LaSalle, at the beginning of the conference.

Turkey’s giant transportation projects and urban renewal plans are giving a further boost to the tourism sector, which is already growing at around 300 percent every year, a sector player said during CATHIC.

But on the other side – the Asian side – Anatolia tourism sector players have called on investors to stop establishing hotels in Turkey’s southern holiday destination of Antalya, hosting more than 10 million tourists every year, as the province has become saturated with hotels and is now facing a substantial number of sales, with five-star hotels sold at much lower rates than their expected value.

This is not the case in Istanbul.

Close to Gezi Park, more and more big hotels are being built. Huge craters are dug in the ground, and many old and historic houses are demolished to make room for more hotel rooms. Construction is going on everywhere.

And what of the trees? Not a single sign of them – by looking out the window of the Marti Hotel, an award-winning “Best New City Hotel Center of Istanbul.” The 5-star Marti Hotel has 270 rooms and suites and opened its doors in April 2013. The rooms have been designed by internationally-acclaimed interior designer Zeynep Fadillioglu, who was the first woman (in the world!) architect assigned to build a mosque on the Anatolian side of Istanbul a couple of years ago.

Down on the Bospherus, the first Shangri-La Hotel in town, which just opened in May, brought a touch of Asia to the Bospherus. It is located next to Premier Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s office and the Police Station of Besiktas.

When asked about cancellations during ongoing demonstrations taking place next to the hotel and the PM’s office, Shangri-La said there were no cancellations so far. But the fact is that tourism has taken a hit, and tour operators are claiming cancellations of groups, resulting in hotels coping with masses of cancellations.

Sermin Addokan, General Manager of Travel-Ser-Vis is suffering from heavy smoke coming into her office from nearby Taksim Square and cancellations of group travel.

General Manager of the historic Pera Palace Hotel, Ms. Kartal-Timer, said: “Unfortunately, the incident affected our business negatively. We have some cancellations and also some postponed business. I wish and hope that with common sense things will settle down soon.”

When talking a few days earlier to Fatih Aydin, B2B General Manager, and Founder of MPI Turkey, he said, “We are doing something that Europe has passed. Police will understand.”

The young generation is growing democratic, and this has nothing to do with Tahir Square. I am very positive and don’t think there is a big problem; it is a very democratic protest. It is important and a new kind of therapy. Everybody who is having problems, whether it is with their family, or at the university, or with their husband, is going to Taksim Square and joining on the sit-in and discussing their lives. It is a new thing, and it is therapy – surely the police will understand that, right?

But last week a long-planned medicine conference in Istanbul was cancelled and group cancellations are coming in.

The Borsa Istanbul plummeted by 4.7 percent on June 6, then rebounded 1.6 percent to 75,854 on Friday morning, and closed the day at 78,332. BIST had plummeted to 10.47 percent, the lowest slide for the last decade, on the first day of the week on June 3, due to the protests and harsh response by the police forces, analysts had said. There was a $1 billion loss at the stock exchange for the whole week, wrote Hurryet.

Aiming to have the biggest shopping malls in Europe, 23 gigantic shopping malls with international designer brands opened over the last few years all over Turkey – 11 had to close.

But the most attractive shopping mall of Istanbul is – and has remained over many centuries – the Grand Bazaar Kapalicarsi, opened since 1461. It is one of the largest covered markets in the world with 60 streets and 5,000 shops attracting between 250,000 to 400,000 visitors daily, and that’s without air conditioning.

Again, the question: how much growth and gigantic projects does Istanbul and Turkey need?

Things have changed rapidly during the last two weeks. Investors have to reflect now on future plans, and foreign hotel investors are worried.

Istanbul is getting the third and biggest airport in the world
Around 2.5 million trees will be cut or moved to a new place during the construction of the planned third airport in Istanbul, the Turkish Ministry of Transport estimated.

Nihat Ozdemir, spokesperson of the consortium and Chairman of the Turkish Limak Group, announced who won the tender for a third airport project in Istanbul. The Cengiz-Kolin-Limak-Mapa-Kalyon Consortium, a joint venture of Turkish companies, won the bid for the third airport project in Istanbul, promising to pay the government 22.1 billion euros for 25 years starting from 2017, reported Hurryet.

A third bridge will be built over the Bospherus Istanbul. “We don’t need a third bridge,” and insider said. “It means more cars coming into town, and we don’t need more congestion; nobody can move during the rush hours, traffic is blocked for hours.”

When the Turkish President apologized one week ago, heavy clashes broke out a week later.

The Turkish riot police have cleared Istanbul’s Taksim Square, which was occupied by anti-government protesters for close to 2 weeks.

Police deployed water cannons and fired tear gas and rubber bullets, causing many protesters to flee the square into adjoining Gezi Park.

Some activists hurled fireworks, fire bombs, and stones at police in retaliation.

The unrest began after a crackdown on an environmental protest over Gezi Park’s redevelopment.

But human chains did not work when riot police rushed into Taksim Square, terrifying young demonstrators who fled the square and turned hotel lobbies around Taksim Square into first aid stations.

Luckily Taksim Square does not occupy all of Istanbul – it is, after all, only one square located in the center of Istanbul – a city with nearly 19 million inhabitants.

There are still plenty of peaceful spots, as in other parts of Istanbul, full of sights and historic places (like Sultanamet) or the elegant shopping district of Nistansi. These places have not been affected, and life is going along as normal.

I would not let one square in a huge city deter me from traveling. In Istanbul, there is nothing better than having breakfast on the Bospherus and watching the ships and boats go by.

Author: editor

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