Terrorist attacks and fears of bird flu may have put Turkey in the tourism picture for the wrong reasons, but it is not deterring a growing legion of European tourists from heading east and to the country’s lively city of Istanbul.The opening of the city’s first boutique business hotel, Movenpick Hotel Istanbul, and the arrival of low-cost carrier easyJet are signs that the market is evolving to suit the growing needs of the European traveller.
Visitor numbers to Turkey have risen steadily over the past decade, from 7.8 million in 1995 to more than 17 million a decade later. By the year 2010, the country is looking to attract 30 million.
According to the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), in 2005 international tourist arrivals in Turkey increased by 20 percent from the previous year, adding 3.4 million arrivals.
With an overall population of 12million, Istanbul would be Europe’s largest city if one third of its population did not live on the south side of the narrow straits of Bosphorus in Asia.
Translated as “to the city” in Greek, Istanbul fuses East and West and old and new, as well as being the capital of three successive empires, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman.
The multi-faceted destination, home to some of the world’s most elaborate churches, mosques and synagogues, is rich in culture and history, with a plethora of attractions as well as a bustling night-life and sophisticated cuisine.
Highlights include the 6th century underground cistern containing 336 columns that supplied water to old Istanbul during times of war; the 15th century Grand Bazaar consisting over 4,500 shops; the Blue Mosque with its six minarets; the opulent Topkapi Palace, which was home to sultans; and the Istanbul Modern Art Museum with its impressive views overlooking Karakoy Harbour.
Travelling along the Bosphorus—a 30 mile channel linking the Marmara and the Black Sea—is like going on a trip through time with an eclectic mix of wooden villas, marble palaces, stone fortresses, modern hotels, landscaped gardens and the Maiden’s Tower—Kiz Kulesi that line the shores. Some of the modern houses along the Bosphorus are the most sought after in the capital.
It is worth stopping off at the village of Ortakoy to sample its cafes and craft stalls and walk along its small cobbled streets. This is also a famous for its nightlife with jazz clubs, fine sea restaurants and bars.
Adding further diversity to its already rich proposition, the city of Istanbul is undergoing a rapid modernisation process, with new hotels popping up in its expanding business district.
There are also a host of new shops springing up in its booming malls—with some of the biggest brands present from Marks & Spencer to Armani. A metro was recently put in place to ease traffic congestion, which has become so unbearable that many commuters choose to use the ferry.
Swiss hospitality group, Movenpick Hotels and Resorts have also opened Istanbul’s first boutique business hotel. The award winning hotel is located in Fourth Levent, just ten minutes away from the famous Taksim Square and 25 minutes from Ataturk International Airport and in the heart of the business district.
While the term “boutique hotel” usually describes intimate, luxurious or quirky hotel environments, typically housing three to 100 guest rooms, the Movenpick Hotel Istanbul is quite spacious with 249 rooms, including 71 executive rooms, and 21 suites. The standard rooms are some of the largest in the city at 35 square metres.
Typically boutique hotels are furnished in a themed, stylish or aspirational manner and tend to be quite unlike mainstream hotel chains. With its colourful, contemporary and slick design, the Movenpick is not unlike international five star hotels. However, according to the management, this is a radical concept for Istanbul and provides a personal touch that defines this as a boutique hotel.
Guests can expect an extremely comfortable bed, a plasma screen, a spacious safe that fits a laptop inside, an extra large desk with a glass-top drawer to house hotel documents and soundproof windows. This is essential since the hotel is located on one of the busiest streets in Istanbul.
Quirky features include a convenient shelf built into the wall outside each room and a “do not disturb” light, which can be switched on and off from beside the bed. Apart from the usual selection of food and beverages from the fridge, ladies can even purchase a selection of tights or pop socks.
The Skyline Deluxe Suite, with its large terrace is an exclusive retreat where executive floor and suite guests can reside and take in the panoramic views that the 20th floor has to offer.
Applying its high-tech, high touch approach for business travellers, who constitute 80 percent of Movenpick’s guests, meeting facilities include state of the art equipment, and the main ballroom and the Premium Room. Eight break out rooms are named after Movenpick ice-cream flavours, so guests are invited to have a meeting in “Chocolate”, “Pistachio” or “vanilla dream”.
The trendy Azzur Restaurant offers guests the chance to sample Mediterranean delights from a menu that was designed by award winning executive chef, Lorraine Sinclare. Also worth checking out is Bar AdoX - a modern bar with a more classically decorated lounge.
For leisure and recreation, there is a Modern Wellness Centre with an indoor pool, jacuzzi, sauna, and fitness centre, while massage rooms are currently under construction.
Movenpick is also planning to take on another hotel in Turkey having signed the management contract with Viltur Insaat Ve Turizm A.S. for the takeover of a business hotel in Izmir. The five star hotel looks set to open officially in October.
EasyJet will become the first low cost carrier to launch a daily service to Istanbul on 29 June, with fares starting from £30.99 one way. The low cost carrier predicts that Istanbul will become one of the most fashionable city break destinations in 2006 / 2007.
Turkey Quick Facts:
* Turkey is an official candidate country to join the European Union in the next two decades and is in accession negotiations. Since its bid to join the European Economic Community, as it was known, on 14th April 1987, Turkey has implemented a host of political reforms, including abolishing the death penalty, allowing greater freedom of speech, and increasing rights for its Kurdish minority. In 1995 it passed a more progressive national legal system.
* Pakistan and Turkey have agreed to cooperate and support each other in the promotion of tourism and take necessary steps to increase mutual tourist flow between their countries.
By Anna Gouldman
Photographs of Istanbul attractions supplied by Patrick Goff, editor, www.hoteldesigns.net