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Nurol's new convention center to boost conference tourism in Ankara

ANKARA - Turkish Daily News | 5/16/2005 12:00:00 AM | DENİZ AKŞİN

Following renovations carried out by Nurol Holding at the Sheraton Hotel and with the addition of its newly constructed convention center, the Ankara Sheraton will become a 'conference hotel,' grasping the unique advantages Ankara offers in 'conference tourism.'

Following renovations carried out by Nurol Holding at the Sheraton Hotel and with the addition of its newly constructed convention center, the Ankara Sheraton will become a “conference hotel,” grasping the unique advantages Ankara offers in “conference tourism.”

İbrahim Birkan, general manager of Turser -- a Nurol Holding company -- commented to the Turkish Daily News how and why his holding had decided to invest in Ankara.

Describing the general state of hotel tourism in Ankara, he said, “There is unfair competition both regarding the quality and quantity of hotels in Turkey.” For instance, in Antalya there are plenty of "ego" investments while there is an abundance of five-stars hotels. However, the five-star designation does not guarantee service or personnel quality or quantity, as they are not referred to in Turkish tourism legislation.

Sheraton Turkey is owned by Nurol Holding, while the managing company, Starwood, has five brands in addition to Sheraton, namely Westin, Four Points, St. Regis, W Hotels and Luxury Collection.

This year, the Ankara Sheraton became part of the Luxury Collection -- another brand Starwood introduced worldwide -- as a result of renovations worth $50 million.

Birkan said Nurol, however, would be retaining the Sheraton name, which is better known to Turkish clients than Luxury Collection.

The convention center being constructed next to the Sheraton is also a new thing for Ankara. This is the first convention center in Ankara with a hotel and as part of Luxury Collection, as Birkan affirms, it will offer a wide range of services.

“Not every Luxury Collection in the world has a convention center,” said Birkan, adding that he believes in the hidden potential for conference tourism in Ankara.

Before making the decision to invest, he said, Nurol requested two studies from an international marketing company and a feasibility company to discover Ankara's potential for conference tourism “and the result was positive.”

Conference tourism already has a separate sector in Turkey, offering many advantages for future investments, provided that the potential is well studied.

For instance, while Antalya and Istanbul host several investments in that regard, Las Vegas, which is best known for its casinos, is indeed the biggest convention center in the world.

“Conventions are actually holidays taken with the money and time of the place you are working for. In other words, our clients also need to be closer to the places where they stay. They demand quality, closeness to places to visit and shop at. Therefore, the destination spot for a convention has to offer all these opportunities to its clients,” he notes.

A comparative SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunities, threats) analysis conducted for Istanbul, Antalya and Ankara showed that these cities have both negative and positive sides for investors.

For instance, Antalya, a center for mass vacation tourism, has no suitable infrastructure for conference tourism, especially for conferences during the high tourism season. Meanwhile, although Istanbul has the potential to become a city like Paris or Rome, it has some disadvantages such as traffic, security and the possibility of earthquakes.

Birkan noted that conducting efficient analyses is crucial since “most conference centers built without sufficient marketing studies are now wasted investments.

“Our strategic entry-point question was whether Ankara could obtain any market share from Antalya and Istanbul's disadvantages,” he said.

Birkan noted Ankara has some strong comparative advantages that capitals generally have, especially considering the European Union accession process. Ankara is on the way to entering into direct relations with Brussels, and the political elites have to engage in discussion in that regard.

“Direct flights to be organized between Ankara and Brussels is just another indicator of this trend,” he notes.

Besides, it is important for any convention to attract media attention, which is also linked to the participation of political elites, and Ankara offers this advantage as well.

The other determining factor is the existence of tourist sights in the city, and Ankara is a well-organized city, notably in terms of transportation. It also offers great cultural activities while linked to the transport network of Anatolia, doubling the diversity of sights.

Birkan says the capital syndrome exists in Ankara as well, under which people want to work and go, leaving the hotels empty during the weekends, from which another advantage can be taken by becoming a conference hotel, since most of conventions are held during the holidays.

He agrees that the Sheraton will have competitors in Ankara, but he notes their competitors will be obliged to invest outside of the city, but Sheraton will always benefit from being in a central spot in Ankara.

After the renovation 100 suites [to Luxury Collection standards], Birkan estimated that the Sheraton may host 10 to 15 conferences a year in addition to ballroom services for dinners and ceremonies.

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