The call of the mermaid
Every single morning the young, newly trained rookie waiter would ask in broken English.
The young couple would answer giggling, “Honey please!” Both the waiter and the couple were Turkish, but they repeated this breakfast ritual for the whole week, as if rehearsing a play to be staged in English.
This was a frequently repeated anecdote of my parents, about their honeymoon back in 1955, at the then newly opened Istanbul Hilton. My father, who had just graduated from Stanford, took a full year’s salary in advance as a young engineer, to be able to afford the extravaganza, and have my mother experience a slice of the American dream. The hotel was the first ever Hilton built outside the U.S., and stood as an iconic manifesto of modernity. Soon afterwards, many others followed in cities such as Cairo, Athens, Jerusalem, Panama and so on. They were all strikingly similar, rising dominantly with a “now-retro” style as bold modern pieces of architecture. They all stood as symbols of Little America, introducing the American lifestyle. Turkey took on the model as well. State funded hotels such as Büyük Tarabya, İzmir Efes, Büyük Ankara and Bursa Çelik Palas were opened one after the other in the 1960s, again all surprisingly similar.
At that time, the priority for the American tourist was to find the American comfort and lifestyle wherever they went. In the advertisements, it was guaranteed that they would find the same towel and the same food in every venue. That is how tastes such as hamburgers and strawberry milkshakes entered our lives. My mother tasted ketchup for the first time in that dreamy honeymoon, spread it on bread and relished it, as if it was a great invention. It might be because of my parents’ initiation to married life, but also due to my father’s quest for exploring best hotels, my very early hotel experiences started with Hilton Hotels, and continued with all the others. Needless to say, my first ever hamburger and milkshake were at the poolside at the Istanbul Bosphorus branch.
For long decades, the key to success in tourism almost always relied on providing a guarantee of standardization. In Turkey, after this initial era of the grand modern city hotels, came the seaside holiday resorts offering everything in excess. For many years, Turkey hosted mass tourism with the “all-inclusive” system, eventually becoming a top destination, but this phenomenon came with a cost. Facilities quickly deteriorated, even decoration trends became outdated, moreover, local people and small businesses could not get enough share from this type of tourism. In the recent years there has been a shift to the complete opposite. Customer expectations now focus on diversity instead of seeking for standardization.
The definition of luxury is changing. The concept of luxury destinations in the world has changed for a long time. Luxury is not necessarily pompous and glittery, on the contrary simplicity with refined gusto and design is the key to most high-end properties. It is not about seeing and being seen, in contrast seclusion and privacy is preferred. Exclusive became synonymous with the concept of luxury. It is also more about experience focusing on locality. The luxury traveler wants to experience new flavors, feel the nature, learn about the local cultures, and also share the responsibility to sustain their existence and care for the environment. Standardization, similarity and sameness are simply out!
Nowadays, even within the same hotel group, brands are being differentiated and positioned on diversity. Interestingly the Hilton group, once the foremost chain that promoted sameness, is now taking the lead in creating the different and the exclusive. Recently, I had the chance to meet Feisal Jaffer, the global brand head of the LXR Hotels & Resorts under the umbrella of Hilton Hotels. The brand, founded in 2018, is rather new, just launching a series of high-end luxury hotels one after another around the globe. Jaffer was here in Turkey to visit the Bodrum Susona LXR Hotel, one of the first of the brand. Jaffer attaches special importance to investments in Turkey and sees the difference here primarily as gastronomy and hospitality. The entry of the LXR brand into Turkey is a positive sign for Bodrum, which plays on the high-level international tourism segment. Jaffer hopes to launch new venues in Turkey, helping to reposition Turkey’s status among the luxury destinations. Susona is named after the legendary mermaid in Turkish mythology which allures sailors with her beautiful voice. Mermaid sirens started blowing in Bodrum, we hope that the sound of the siren will attract quality tourism. Susona is a unique legendary mythical creature. After all, the new motto is uniqueness!
Fork and Cork of the Week:
Tasting local flavors and local products is a priority in today’s gastronomy. Susona hosts two local brand restaurants Malva and Frankie Beach Club, created by restaurateur Kaya Demirer, who is also the F&B consultant for the property. Demirer, also the head of the Turkish Restaurant and Entertainment Association (TURYID), gives utmost importance in promoting local values, supporting regional produce and environmental sensitivity. In line with the hotel’s philosophy, they are promoting the use of lionfish in the restaurants. The lionfish is an invasive fish that comes from the Red Sea through the Suez Canal and reaches our seas. It destroys all native fish species, and the only way to stop this is to make more and more use of it, and that is exactly what Malva and Frankie does. Actually, lionfish ceviche seems to be even better tasting than the sea bass version.
Sourcing materials from local producers and emphasizing geographical indication products are among other priorities of the restaurants. In search for the unique tastes, Sommelier Selçuk Dönmezer makes discoveries in the vineyards in the region and follows the development of the grapes day by day. They try to support local small wineries and promote the indigenous grapes of Turkey. The bottles poured in the venue includes the elusive Bornova Misketi grape, the ancestor of all Muscadet grapes. Another bottle, the coupage of Narince and Emir grapes is just the white we need in the summer, chilled and cool by all its means. The famous Bodrum mandarin is almost like the brand mascot here. At Frankie Beach Club, they offer family lunch style sharing plates to minimize waste, and to create conviviality around the table.
The honeymoon venue of my parents still remains iconic, this time as a piece of modern architectural heritage after almost 66 years. Hopefully, with the refurbishment, the retro “Mad Men” style will make a comeback, making the property unique in its design. Rumor has it that Demirer will be the F&B consultant for the Bosphorus property as well. I’m almost certain that there will be a uniqueness in revisiting the sameness.