Many global hotel companies are turning to Turkey, and especially Istanbul, for expansion opportunities.
TURKEY—Turkey has become a tourism and hotel development hot spot. The country, which straddles Europe and Asia, has a strong economy and a vibrant tourism industry and, as a result, many global hotel chains have targeted the country for growth.
According to STR Global, sister company of HotelNewsNow.com, 58 hotels with 9,471 rooms are in the development pipeline in Turkey, nearly half of which (27 hotels with 5,447 rooms) are under development in Istanbul, the country’s business and cultural center.
“Turkey’s booming economy, and stable political environment make it very attractive for development,” said Tarik Nasser, VP of development, Turkey for Marriott International. “It has a very solid domestic business traveler market and is within a three-hour flight of key source markets in Europe and the Middle East.”
Turkey has become a popular vacation destination, especially for Western Europeans and travelers from Central Asia. According to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the number of foreign travelers arriving in Turkey for the first three months of 2013 was 5.2 million, a 13.5% increase compared with the same quarter last year. From January 2013 to April 2013, Germany was the top feeder market for Turkey with 917,876 arrivals, followed by Georgia (466,220 arrivals) and Syria (451,352).
Mehmet Onkal, managing partner of BDO Hospitality Consulting based in Turkey, credits Turkish Airlines for driving a lot of foreign visitors to the country. He said the carrier flies to 200 destinations from Turkey and is planning an expansion with a recent deal for 117 planes from Airbus Industries to its current fleet of 215 planes.
“The contribution of Turkish Airlines to the (country’s) tourism industry has been tremendous,” he said. “Istanbul is its hub, so people fly there to go on to the Middle East, Central Asia, Africa and beyond.”
Interest from the chains
“We looked at the market and saw the demand,” said Rui Barros, senior VP and managing director, Europe, Middle East and Africa, for Wyndham Hotel Group. “A lot of Europeans who would have normally gone to Western European countries in search of sunshine and culture are now coming to Turkey and, in particular, Istanbul.”
The boutique Nikki Beach Bodrum Resort & Spa opens in 2014.
Wyndham opened its first hotel in the country in 2007 and now has 18 hotels—all but two are Ramadas—with 2,700 rooms. In 2012, Wyndham added 10 properties to its portfolio, including its first Wyndham-branded hotel and its first Tryp by Wyndham in the country. Ten of Wyndham’s properties in the country are in Istanbul.
A wide range of global chains have been expanding aggressively into Turkey:
- Hilton Worldwide has had a presence in the Turkish hotel market since the 1955 opening of the Istanbul Hilton. Today, the company has 24 hotels in Turkey with 20 in the pipeline. So far this year, the company opened three DoubleTree by Hiltons, three Hampton by Hiltons and one Hilton-branded property.
- Wyndham has nine more Ramadas and an additional Wyndham in its pipeline for Turkey, Barros said. The company also sees opportunity to introduce economy brands in the country and last month signed a deal with a Turkish developer to build 20 Super 8 properties in the next 10 years.
- Marriott’s Nasser said the company’s expansion strategy in Turkey is to focus on select-service hotels, including Courtyard and Residence Inn but also AC by Marriott and Moxy Hotels, a recently announced brand in conjunction with Swedish furniture retailer Ikea.
- The third Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts property in Turkey, and the first outside of Istanbul, will open in 2016. A Turkish developer is building a 146-room Four Seasons Resort along the Aegean Sea in Turkey’s Izmir province.
- Fairmont Hotels & Resorts will enter the Turkish market in 2016 with the opening of a 210-room hotel and branded residences in a new mixed-use development in Istanbul
- Lifestyle brand Nikki Beach will open a 57-room beachfront property in the Mediterranean resort of Bodrum in 2014. Sary Arab, COO of Nikki Beach Hotels & Resorts EMEA, said the company chose Turkey for expansion because of the country’s “growing reputation as an upcoming destination,” particularly for the brand’s core target market, which he describes as “young-at-heart tastemakers and trendsetters.” He said the company is also looking to develop its urban concept, The Nikki, in Istanbul.
- The Marti Group, a Turkish-based hotel company with five resorts along the country’s Turquoise Coast on the Mediterranean Sea, in January opened its first urban hotel, a 270-room property in Istanbul.
- Hong Kong-based Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts last month opened its first hotel in Istanbul, a 186-room property on the European side of the Bosporus, the waterway separating Europe and Asia.
The development challenge
“Local investors fund 95% of the (new hotel) projects,” Onkal said. “Turkey produces and exports a lot of textiles, and those people and companies in that business have made a lot of money and they’re investing it in tourism and the building of hotels.”
The Ramada Plaza City Centre is one of 16 Ramadas in Turkey and one of 10 Wyndham Hotel Group properties in Istanbul.
According to Metin Erdogdu, president of Istanbul-based PFD Consulting, finding financing is not the most pressing challenge for developers of hotels in Turkey. He said because of the country’s strong economic conditions and the performance of the tourism sector, “financing has dropped down to third rank after land and property cost and securing construction permits” as issues developers must face.
“Most tourism investments are financed by commercial banks, and as tourism has become the most popular in overall real estate investments, there is vast competition among banks to finance bankable tourism (projects),” Erdogdu said.
Most hotel executives downplay potential disruptions to Turkey’s tourism economy from the political instability in parts of the Middle East, including Turkey’s southern neighbor, Syria. Most recently, Turkey has faced its own unrest when a protest movement erupted in Istanbul after authorities announced they would replace Gezi Park, the only green space in the city center, with a shopping mall, according to CNN.
“We have a number of hotels in the Middle East already and more proposed for the region and some of these areas are volatile,” said Jeff Doane, VP of hotel sales for Fairmont. “Parts of Turkey are near some of this (instability), but when you’re in Istanbul you’re a million miles away from that. It has a tremendous European/Asian feel to it. It feels safe and that’s one of the reasons it has such growth from a tourism perspective.”
Hotel executives are more worried by operational challenges than geopolitical crises.
“Our main concerns as an international luxury hotel operating in Turkey are more based on bridging the cultural gaps that may exist at the (human resources) levels and selecting the right pool of local talent,” said Arab of Nikki Beach. He also cited “managing inflationary risks inherent to the country and keeping cost structures within competitive boundaries” as challenges.