Istanbul wants reputation as new international meetings hub
The Turkish city is expanding as an international financial and political centre.
By Menekse Tokyay for SES Türkiye in Istanbul -- 15/06/12
Turkey's rapidly developing economy and Istanbul's easy access, with its world-class accommodations and convention centres, make the Turkish city a rising international financial and political hub.
The government has made significant efforts to raise the international profile of the country's largest city, including significant financial investments to transform its image.
A draft bill, recently passed by parliament, is expected to change some tax regulations and support foreign investment funds to enlarge their activities in Turkey, in hopes of attracting more international meetings and transactions.
Istanbul is on the short list of virtually every major event, experts said, including being a finalist for the 2020 Olympic Games.
"Our mission is to continue communicating to meeting planners that Istanbul offers unrivalled flexibility and confidence of knowing that all facilities are new and technologically up-to-date," Elif Balci Fisunoglu, general manager of the Istanbul Convention and Visitors Bureau, told SES Türkiye.
Istanbul will host several major congresses later this year -- the 28th Annual Meeting of European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology, with 7,000 delegates expected; the 30th World Congress on Endourology and Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy, with 3,000 delegates expected; and the 4th Congress of the European Academy of Paediatric Societies, with 2,500 delegates expected.
The city hosts 40,000 to 45,000 visitors annually during such meetings.
Istanbul also won a bid to host the prestigious World Forum on Energy Regulation in 2015.
Turkey's total income from congress tourism is almost $2.5 billion (1.9 billion euros), with 70% of international meetings being held in Istanbul.
Fatih Tamince, CEO of the Istanbul Congress Centre, said that international congresses yield significant added value to the urban economy.
"According to statistics, each congress delegate is spending nearly $2,500 (1,984 euros) per day. So, not only hotels and congress centres but also restaurants and shopping malls are gaining from their visit," Tamince told SES Türkiye.
Peter Stano, an EC official, has visited Istanbul four times so far. He said that the attraction of Istanbul has increased through the EU accession process, which stimulates efforts to bring Turkey and its cities to a European standard.
However, concerns have been raised whether Istanbul, with its 14 million inhabitants, has the infrastructure to meet the increasing demands of an international meetings centre. The city's security cordon is extended to accommodate high-level meetings, but it increasingly frustrates city residents.
The Istanbul municipality provides police squad security for each meeting and establishes a security cordon according to the priority level of the meeting. Police teams are assigned to every corner of the adjoining streets and avenues from the main meeting location.
"Last year in May, when we organised the International Conference for Less Developed Countries, and this year the UEFA congress in April, a [large] security cordon was planned -- comparable to the standards in Paris, Vienna or London," explained Tamince.
Kenan Cayir, sociologist at Istanbul's Bilgi University, said that the urban transformation projects and strengthening of infrastructural needs in Istanbul are the most obvious government efforts to raise the profile of the city as an international meetings hub.
"Istanbul is becoming the de facto capital of Turkey with its cosmopolitan structure and obvious embodiment Turkey's raising economy," Cayir told SES Türkiye.