Faruk Boyaci, owner of Sirkeci Group Hotels and Vice-president of the Turkish Hotel Owner Association talked exclusively to Greek Reporter about his successful hotel business in Istanbul and his idea of jointly promoting Greece and Turkey as tourist destinations abroad to bring more travelers to both countries and strengthen bilateral relations.
Tell us a bit more about your Hotels in Sirkeci and how it all began.
Twenty-five years ago, Sirkeci Group began to operate a hotel in the Sirkeci area. Back then, this area was not really suitable for the hotel business. Most shops were selling car parts in Sirkeci. The people were using the Sirkeci Hotels term to describe a bad hotel with bad service. However, Sirkeci Group believed in Sirkeci. There was no reason not to turn such an area that was within walking distance to all historical monuments into an area that can host culture tourists from all over the world. Therefore, Sirkeci Group works hard to improve Sirkeci. To do this, our group contributes to the creation of different NGOs, such as the Sirkeci Improvement Organization.
Right now, Sirkeci Group has five hotels of five different concepts in Sirkeci: Sirkeci Konak (luxury boutique hotel,) Neorion Hotel (luxury boutiquel,) Orient Express (boutique,) Erboy Hotel (3-Star), Ilkay Hotel (budget). It hosts culture tourists from all over the world. When the group decided to invest in the hotel business, the need for good restaurants in the area emerged. Today, the group also operates six restaurants; Paşazade (Ottoman Cuisine,) Imbat (Mediterranean cuisine,) Neyzade (regional Turkish cuisine,) Sirkeci Balikçisi (fish restaurant), Cafe Mese (bistro) and Red River Pub.
The philosophy both hotels and restaurants share is the absolute satisfaction of our guests. Both hotels and restaurants of the group received very good ratings on hotel and restaurant rating websites, such as Tripadvisor and Zoover. They also received many prestigious awards.
How many Greeks are visiting Istanbul per year? What are their impressions?
At the end of this year, the total number of Greeks visiting Istanbul will reach 90,000. We expect this number will keep increasing year-by-year.
Greek people visiting Turkey for the first time get very surprised when they see how the Turkish and Greek cultures are close to each other. It’s just the same thing that happens with Turks visiting Greece for the first time. These two countries share the same foods, drinks, music, traditions, and tastes. Especially with Turks living in Istanbul, Greeks have a similar lifestyle.
They both enjoy concerts, theaters, night life and good foods and drinks. Despite these similarities, Turkey is still a compelling country because of its Middle East cultural influences. Greeks visiting Istanbul enjoy the city a lot. They experience a city both familiar and totally different at the same time.
Is tourism development in Istanbul growing? Have the trends so far proved positive or negative?
The number of tourists visiting Istanbul keeps increasing day by day. Last year, almost eight million tourists visited. At the end of this year, this number is estimated to reach nine million visitors. Right now, Istanbul is the fifth most visited city destination in the world. Besides culture travelers, Istanbul attracts convention, health, finance, and education tourists from all over the world. Not only local but also international prestigious hotel companies such as Raffels, Mandarin Oriental and Shangri La Hotels have sensed this increasing trend in tourism in Istanbul and started to invest here.
To improve the overall travelling experience in Istanbul, national and local governors have been developing the city’s infrastructure. The national government has opened new high schools and colleges educating students specifically on tourism. This has influenced the quality of staff working in the tourism sector positively. Based on all these investments and improvements, we can easily say that the quality of tourism in Istanbul keeps increasing.
What is the local’s attitude toward Greek visitors amidst the political tension between the two countries?
The political tension between Greece and Turkey does not really affect the relations between Greek and Turkish people. The two countries share common cultural elements. For the Turkish people, Greeks are their brothers living in the neighbor country. I am sure this is correct for the Greek people too. None of the Greeks are faced with negative attitudes of Turks in Turkey.
How did you come up with the idea of advertising the two countries together in order to improve tourism and bilateral relations?
Turkey and Greece can easily announce themselves as one product. They have similar lifestyle and both of them have a glorious heritage. If Greece and Turkey join powers, they can create a great synergy. Especially, they should act together in the overseas markets such as America, Canada and Australia where both of the countries are known less and need more budgets to market themselves. In these countries, they can combine their marketing budgets. By this way, they can reach out to more people.
The travelers from these overseas countries need to pay a lot (around $1,500 for the round trip) for their flight tickets. When they spend that much money and time to fly, they would like to see as much places as possible. Therefore, marketing Turkey and Greece at the same time and offering some flight packages including these two countries will be more appealing for travelers. (Before the Arab Spring, Egypt was also considered to be added to this package.) Such a partnership in tourism will support the image of Turkey and Greece in the world and promote peace between these two countries.