Positioned on the edge of Europe, Turkey’s cultural capital Istanbul is a buzzing transcontinental beauty with humongous spots for business meetings and conferences and an even better place to wind down the routined hassles and soak in the bustling vibes of the city. We spent six days of this thrilling expedition in Turkey, which weren’t enough to fill our appetite to explore more of both the cultural and business facets that Istanbul has to offer. The more we unfolded the layers of its history, culture and locals, the more we fell in love with Istanbul, since everything in the city had a stimulating story to tell
Over the years, Turkey has altered itself into a hub for business and leisure. Through the mix of historical and contemporary, the undisturbed and the buzzing, Turkey offers a pleasant surprise to the senses. And if defined precisely, there is no other place in the world that fuses East and West with such ease. With a mix of popular and some of the uncharted gems that have been attracting tourists from all over the world, Turkey, with its world-class hotels and remarkable infrastructure, is becoming the most frequented destination by the Indian travellers. According to the recent report, Turkey this year, witnessed a substantial surge in the number of extravagant Indian destination weddings across Turkey and similarly, the number for MICE travel to Turkey went a notch up at a faster pace. As revealed by the Turkish Tourism Board in India in September, Turkey, between the months of January to July, has registered a 56 per cent increase in the number of Indian tourist arrivals in comparison to the same period last year, hosting overall 130,000 Indian visitors.
To make the media more acquainted with its top-drawer attractions in the country, The Turkish Tourism Board in India in association with their India representative Linkin Reps hosted a familiarisation trip to the fantastic cities of Istanbul and Antalya have today become a preferred choice for MICE and leisure segments of travellers.
Istanbul topping the charts as a leading MICE hub
MICE travel in Turkey is increasing at an incredibly fast pace, with the country being ranked among the world’s top 10 meeting and congress destinations, it was revealed. According to the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA), the country ranks 18th globally as a growing destination for MICE tourism. And the city of Istanbul ranks eighth on the global leaderboard since it is a bridge between East and West, both in terms of trade and culture. Over the years, Istanbul has seen billions of dollars invested in core infrastructure projects to boost its tourism sector and enhance its position as a viable business destination. Not just Istanbul Congress Centre (ICC) is considered to be one of the leading platforms that serve as a solid foundation for the industry but another strengthening pillar, ICEC (Istanbul Lutfi Kirdar International Convention and Exhibition Center) has been there for years offering excellence to the meetings and conferences in the city. Ideal for not just the international congresses and meetings, fairs and exhibitions but also for cocktails, gala dinners and cultural events, ICEC with huge spaces and venue’s strategic location become the topmost competitive advantage for the organisers to choose ICEC for the events. Though largely untapped by the India market currently, ICEC looks forward to strengthening engagement with the potential MICE segment from India, as suggested by Handan Boyce, General Manager, ICEC.
What else gives Istanbul its edge as a perfect MICE destination is its impressive and ever-evolving infrastructure including the hotels that are revamped, established to cater to the modern business travellers’ needs. Their prime locations, continually expanding facilities and high-quality services, as well as several conference and convention venues available within the hotel premises, have helped the city evolve into a business hub, paving the way for its distinction as the premier international business destination it is today.
Hilton Istanbul Bosphorus; an established hotel in the Congress valley, features a Convention and Exhibition center with capacity for up to 3000 guests. Also for special occasions like cocktails and social gala events, the grand ballroom or the artistically illuminated Sadirvan Saloon, the poolside and the garden areas are ideal. 27 meeting rooms with an all-day accessible business center, make for a full package fantastic deal for the MICE requirements. The USP of the hotel is its location where its just steps away from Taksim Square, cafes and in close proximity to the Grand Bazaar. Another award-winning property, Conrad Istanbul is a prime location catering to both meetings and leisure segments. The recently awarded the title of ‘Turkey’s Leading Conference Hotel’ by the World Travel Awards, Conrad Istanbul Bosphorus is the perfect example of contemporary elegance in the city. The USP of the hotel includes modish surroundings, marvelous interiors and facilities, over 26 function/ meeting rooms including two ballrooms, four boardrooms and several meeting rooms. In addition, what makes the property one of its kind is the Presidential Suite. Popularly called by staff as ‘Obama Suite’, this space boasts luxury and elegance of another level. Be it a dinner of eight people or an after-party event of 60, this suite not just offers the superb view of the Bosphorus waterway and city panorama but also features a kitchenette, fitness room, living room, study area and a Turkish-style bathroom, a whirlpool tub and airy spaces for serious meetings and casual relaxation.
The city’s exciting atmosphere along with its vibrancy, top-notch infrastructure and enviable geographical position, stem from its unique union between traditional magnificence and contemporary vibes; a combination that makes Istanbul an ideal place to meet for business and is extraordinarily well suited for business and beyond.
Once unwinding, take a culture shot and a leisure stroll down the city
Napoleon once stated, “If the world was only one country, Istanbul would be its capital.” In so many ways, travellers throughout the ages have agreed with this sentiment. Always been a rich mosaic of people, history, religions and cultures, Istanbul indeed is a fascinating city where historical sites dot every corner and center, picture-worthy mosques pierce the amazing city skyline, chic cafes line the buzzing streets and the colorful bazaars make you go gaga at every stop.
Some examples of this magnificence also include the Hagia Sofia (Aya Sofya) Museum in Sultan Ahmet district, an architectural masterpiece that once served as a Byzantine church and then an Ottoman mosque and the 17th-century Sultan Ahmet Mosque, also known as Blue Mosque for its illustrious interior dotted with tile decorations, grey cascading domes and six minarets. A great sightseeing joy of a trip to Istanbul is taking a leisure walk amid the gardens packed in between the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofya or have a hearty lunch at Hagia Sofia Mansions.
Next comes Büyükada, Istanbul’s largest and most popular of the Princes’ Islands, which is another star attraction and a perfect opportunity to get away from the city’s hustle-bustle. One has to take a ferry to this no-cars-allowed island which approximately is a 40-minute journey from the city. On the way to Princes Islands, tourists on the top deck of the ferry capture the dramatic skyline and some of the magical views towards Hagia Sophia, the Topkapi Palace and the mesmerising minarets of the Blue Mosque. Once you defy the bustling vibes of the city and reach the island, you will be amazed to go back in time and see this quaint, serene world dotted with impressive wooden country mansions, boutique hotels, lanes with vendors selling the souvenirs and local Turkish favourites and some awesome sea view restaurants. The small-hamlet and composed vibes of this particular island where either bicycle or horse-drawn carriage are the modes of transport, has made this space one of Istanbulites’ favourite summer destinations and an exciting attraction for the tourists who are travelling for leisure or the business travellers who for a change would want to do a sea side meeting. Before waving goodbye to the island, do not forget to have Lokma after taking a lunch break at one of the restaurants lining the lanes. Lokma is a traditional fried-dough pastry, which is served with delicious cinnamon syrup and some sprinkled cinnamon powder on the top.
Besides hopping on and off ferries, visitors haggle their hearts out in the colorful Grand Bazaar. This massive covered market is a maze of laneways lined by shops and stalls selling every Turkish souvenir and handicraft you could imagine, from Turkish lamps to local delicacies including Baklawas, the traditional ceramic bowls to souvenirs, essential oils, you get it all here. Unlike the huge covered bazaars, shopping fanatics can head to the main cosmo and entertainment street of Taksim which is one of the city’s main shopping streets. Serious food shopping is a must here as you get plenty of options to try some of the traditional culinary goodies. If you get tired of walking, you may choose to take the historic red tramway that runs up and down the street.
While after easily spending hours and days in the buzzing bazaars and streets of the city, later in the day, one can climb up the medieval marvel Galata Tower. The views of the sun setting over the bright city, the amplified music of duelling muezzins cutting through the distant hum of traffic and a panoramic shot of the city is what a Galata Tower experience can offer at once. Don’t miss out on having a snacking break at one of the popular eateries near Galata, Güney Restaurant which serves some of the amazing European and Turkish cuisines.
Well, that is aptly true that the city of Istanbul is busy, fast, never stops, but when one needs a break from the fervid travelling schedule, a traditional Turkish bath (locally and popularly known as Hammam) comes to the rescue. Played a pivotal role since the Roman times, hammams are a quintessential Turkish must-try experience and an ancient amenity that has outlived centuries of modernised social norms. Apart from the steaming, rejuvenating massages and bathing, what amazes you more is the visuals- the colossal marble slabs, towering columns with artistic details and the tradition that outlasts every modern norm today. Visitors including both enthusiastic travellers and nostalgic locals keen to experience the cleansing rituals are seen thronging the bathhouses. Our personal recommendation? Head to Çemberlitaş Hamami, which is probably one of the oldest bathhouses in the city.
As vast as the magnitude of Turkey and its various tourism offerings is, the city of Antalya deserves an all the more exclusivity, and therefore, we decided to portray the aspects of this beautiful city and its firm focus on the global MICE markets through our next detailed piece which would be rolling out in the forthcoming issue.