A courageous investment in tourism
Bank loans in Turkey’s tourism industry have increased 70 percent in the past two-and-a-half years, despite undergoing a deep crisis. According to official data, average room prices have gone down 35 percent while one million people have lost their jobs. Amid this atmosphere, I met a brave Don Quixote investing in this industry.
A young Aegean woman is courageously creating a new brand with an investment of 20 million euros. Ece Tonbul is the daughter of a family who has been involved in the tourism industry for 40 years in Kuşadası. Her father is the doyen of tourism and has witnessed how a small, 1960s fishermen’s town of 5,000 people turned into the major touristic destination, Kuşadası. With the opening of the cruise port in the 1960s, today, Kuşadası has a population of one million in the summer. Unfortunately however, it is a resort town that has been a victim of poor urbanization.
I visited Hasan Tonbul at his organic farm at Özdere near Kuşadası. He started out as a tour guide before he borrowed 50 Turkish Liras from the bank and founded Diana Tourism in 1977. The company grew in years and was the first one to charter flights from Benelux countries to Turkey. Under their umbrella, the Paloma Group now owns 11 hotels.
“I have been working in hotels over the summers since I was 11 or 12. I know everything about hotels, from laundry to kitchen to marketing,” said Ece Tonbul, the CEO of Diana Hotel Investments. After studying economy abroad, and receiving a graduate degree in gastronomy, the young mother of two has created a new identity for the Paloma Club Sultan near Kuşadası, built on an area of 180 thousand square meters.
With its new name, Club Marvy has a bohemian-chic design. When asked about the boho style in hotels, Tonbul said it can be called non-visible luxury. “For instance, in decoration and in the kitchen, local products are at the forefront. There are products directly from the organic farm. Our beaches are natural. We did not bring in white sand from the Maldives like some hotels have done. There is not one non-local plant in the landscape. We are open to young artists who want to work here. All our textile products were produced at the old textile town of Buldan,” she said.
Because they have made room for authentic products from the region and the country, this is “sustainable tourism,” said Tonbul. She praises Club Marvy as an Aegean town where life goes at a slow pace.
Tonbul is planning to turn the crisis into an opportunity with the new-style accommodation she has created throughout tough times. The tourism crisis in Turkey, which Tonbul believes has the best balance of price and quality in the Mediterranean basin, has also caused major damage for European tour operators.
“All the planes of tour operators are idle because they have a hard time finding a destination like Turkey in the Mediterranean bowl,” she said.