Ahu Özyurt - ISTANBUL
Despite souring relations between Turkey and some Gulf countries, Turkey’s young entrepreneurs are finding incredible opportunities in construction and tourism investments in Dubai. For Haldun Kilit, board chairman and founder of AHK, the Bvlgari Hotel and Residence Project could be the jewel in the crown.
Fresh out of Bilkent University’s interior design department in 1996, Kilit decided to establish his own business and asked for some help from his father. But the answer he got was a big “no.” “So I literally started from scratch and opened up my own factory for furniture and upholstery,” he told Hürriyet Daily News.
“First, I established my own showroom in [Mediterranean province of] Antalya
where we lived. It even had an art gallery in it. Then came the hotel furnishing offers and special projects. And in 2008 we decided to take our chances in Dubai,” Kilit said.
Winning the tender of Mövenpick Hotel’s concept and interior decoration, which had a budget of $35 million, became a turning point for AHK. Now, the fit out and furniture company has become a multinational design house with products that range from lightning to yacht interiors.
“We went to the Gulf before everybody came. After winning three to four good projects your reputation holds,” said Kilit, citing the recent development projects in Palm Islands operated by Waldorf. “But even in Dubai, money will be tight,” he added.
“There is a new 5 percent tax imposed, plus the big spenders are not there anymore. But Dubai is Dubai and the hotels are always full. So there is no such thing as ‘excess capacity.’ Meanwhile, we are looking into new markets like Kenya, Morocco, England and the U.S,” he said.
AHK’s reputation has brought them together with several hotel chains in Dubai. Currently, the company is working on Emirates Pearl Hotel, W Hotel, Westin Hotel, and St. Regis Polo Dubai. Bvlgari Hotel Dubai will be another one of its collaborations with Mandarin Oriental Bodrum’s architects and will be opened this year.
“Despite all the political differences, there is great respect for Turkish businesses in Dubai. I even take my carpenters from Turkey because it is difficult to find workers that can do the handcraft work. I believe Dubai will never lose its charm,” he said.
Since 2014, the company has also looked into land development opportunities inside Turkey. “KNDU VILLAS in Antalya
is a unique project for us in Turkey,” said Kilit when talking about a 100-villa project comprised of three phases on an 80,000-square-meter area.
“But our focus will continue to be an international player,” he said.