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ETS at the heart of Turkish tourism

Interview - July 23, 2013
Founded in 1991 to offer alternative travel packages for international and domestic travellers, ETS has grown into one of the leading tourism companies in Turkey. Here, Chairman Mehmet Ersoy talks to World Report about his company’s remarkable journey

Considering the significant rise of the country’s tourism sector in recent years, how would you say your strategy has changed since you established over two decades ago?

When we first started, we thought we were only going to serve Turkish guests. But at present, we have the largest market share. In 1998 we started to look at accommodation, and we started with Voyage Hotels, the hotel chain. In 2004, we decided to invest in air transport. In 2013, we became the market leader and we are different compared to other companies. We do not use accommodation for transport or tour operators – we think every company is different. Every company has its own profit centre. This is our main strategy in tourism investment. This is the biggest difference between us and other investors in these three segments of tourism.

You were the first tourism company in Turkey to offer the full range of services, from agents to accommodation, to car rentals and guides...

Yes. If you provide transport, accommodation and reservations, it goes through an operator. People in Turkey say that they are operators, but they are actually tourism agencies. There is a big difference between the two. Tour operators have their own transport, airlines and buses, hotels and a reservation system. Only 10% of our guests stay in our hotels – 90% stay in other hotels. Just 10% fly with our airline, and 90% with other airlines. We understand each sector and we know the problems with airlines and hotels. We know how to talk to them and behave with them, and this makes us more successful in my opinion.

You mentioned earlier that knowing what the customer wants is fundamental to your success. Can you tell us about this?

In 2003, we started providing questionnaires to our guests about services, hotels and our agencies. I read every questionnaire at the beginning, so we could understand the issues. Our teams also understand that if they make a mistake, it will be resolved in a week or two weeks. We did it to understand what we have to change. We use this system in all other sectors. It has made us very successful. We share the results with our guests. Normally this would be very risky, but it has to be like this. I always tell investors that you cannot keep a secret from anybody in the world. Everybody will know if you do something wrong. If there is something wrong, we have to change it.

As a whole, Turkey is going through an exciting time at the moment. In a period of global economic recession, Turkey has been the fastest growing economy in Europe for two out of the past three years, and is even projected to post a respectable growth of 4% GDP in 2013. What impact has this economic prosperity had on the tourism and hotel sector?

I think that tourism will increase more in Turkey, because there is still capacity. We do not just look at tourism in terms of growth, because tourism is also a platform for our people (education), as the investors teach them how to speak different languages. They also learn about the culture of working with guests from all over the world. This is very important. Investors teach this free of charge. We send them to language schools and we teach them about business without having to go to school. This is very important. Tourism is not just income for Turkey; it is another platform for teaching people.

Secondly, 90% of what we produce is in Turkey, and just 10% is from outside the country. This is very important, because Turkey exports too much (40%). The biggest issue in the world at the moment is unemployment, and tourism mostly concerns people, so we create more jobs compared to other industries.

British tourists are the second largest group of tourists coming to Turkey from the EU, just behind Germany. How do you think the Turkish tourism sector could increase the amount of British tourists coming to Turkey?

English guests write reviews. If you read Trip Advisor, you will see that if there is something wrong, they will write about it, and if there is something good, they will write about it. This is very important. For English guests, first of all we have to sell the truth. They will not forgive you – they will write a review. Secondly, family tourism is very important for English guests. If we invest in the family concept, they will come more. But we have had some issues over the past two years because of the economic problems in England. The numbers did not increase, but I think they will start to increase next year. They like our hotels very much, because they are number one or two in their areas.

What opportunities would you highlight to UK investors and companies that are interested in entering the Turkish tourism sector and even partnerships with leading companies such as yours?

A lot of foreign companies have been visiting Turkey to invest for two years. European countries are coming as well. A lot of capital investment companies are coming to our company. I think there are a lot of opportunities in Turkey because it is in the middle of the East, Russian countries and Europe. This is very important. We have a lot of potential in all of our neighbouring countries, within a three or four hour flight away. They can also visit us during the winter. A lot of football teams come to Turkey in January and February for 10 day and 2 week camps. The weather is not too cold, although it rains sometimes. In the winter it is 20 to 24 degrees, sometimes 15, but always good.

There is also another advantage – Istanbul. Even as a Turkish investor, I did not understand how land prices increased in Istanbul in five years. The Turkish Government is always bringing in new projects to Istanbul, and if they continue to do so, the prices will increase. We can invest in hotels in Manhattan for the same price. Land prices have increased so much, because the Turkish Government in particular realized that we are the bridge between Russia and Europe and East Asia, and they take advantage of this.