As general manager of Istanbul Congress Centre, Turkey’s biggest such venue, Pervin Zeydanli explains why the historic city is perfectly placed to become a global leader in MICE tourism.
Last year was another record year for tourism in Turkey and the country is aiming for 60 million annual arrivals by 2023. How important is the Meetings Incentives Conferences and Events (MICE) sector to the ongoing success and ambitious targets of Turkey’s tourism industry?
Turkey is attracting more and more people from Europe, MENA and Far East, thanks to ongoing political changes and improvements, together with further investments in our transport infrastructure and the tourism sector. Turkey and Istanbul are now well-known in the MICE sector and we have high expectations for further growth in the coming years.
What is it about Istanbul as a city that makes it stand out as a MICE destination?
Since the 1990’s, the MICE sector has been growing and developing in Turkey. The turning point was the UN Habitat II conference in Istanbul in 1996. Following this, huge investments were made in MICE facilities and big hotels started to be constructed. I have been working in the sector for 18 years so I have witnessed the developments and the increased awareness of the MICE sector in Turkey and Istanbul as a destination.
Istanbul, as a natural bridge between Europe and Middle East, is a very important city surrounded by the Black Sea and Marmara Sea; it’s probably the only major city in the world with the sea running through it. In addition to its geographic advantages, it has two existing airports and the biggest airport in the world is currently under construction, so it is easy to reach. Turkish Airlines plays an important role in increasing the awareness of Istanbul as it reaches more than 200 destinations.
Turkey was ranked 18th in the world by the International Congress and Convention Association in 2013, and the city of Istanbul was ranked eighth. How important is Istanbul Congress Centre to the goal of making this city one of the top three in the world for MICE tourism?
Istanbul Congress Centre is now one of central Istanbul’s leading conference and events venues. It was constructed in 2009 and has more than 18 meeting halls, ranging from 235 sqm to 1300 sqm; and 90 workshops ranging from 19 sqm to 168 sqm. In addition, we have 14,000 square meters of exhibition center. Centrally located in the heart of Harbiye, Istanbul Congress Centre is close to Dolmabahçe Palace, Istiklal Street and Nişantaşı.Transport links from within and outside the capital make ICC one of the most accessible venues in central Istanbul. And our main advantage is that Istanbul Congress Centre is managed by experienced directors and staffed by well-trained and courteous employees.
What are the key foreign markets for the ICC as a MICE venue and how are you reaching out to these markets to communicate about the attractions you offer?
Our key foreign market is obviously Europe and we are getting more and more known in the MENA region. To reach out to these markets, we participate in trade fairs and do some interviews with the idea of letting more people know about our attractions. And we try to give good service to our guests. With our hard working staff and successful events, including the G20 meetings in February, we attract repeat customers and recommendations. We are aware that we need to be more proactive in letting event organizers know that we are the right place in Istanbul.
Turkey is hosting a large number of international meetings and events this year as G20 President. Already the ICC has hosted one of the key meetings of finance ministers and Central Bank Governors in February. What impact is the G20 Presidency likely to have on the Turkish MICE industry in general and the ICC in particular?
We have already started to feel the positive impacts of G20 meetings in Turkey, which is one of the biggest and most prestigious events in our calendar.
Regarding instability in our neighboring countries, we can say that the Syrian war and economic problems in the Russian market have not affected us negatively. The Syrian border in very far away from Istanbul and has minimal impact on our reputation as a MICE destination. We remain the center of attraction despite these things happening in our neighboring countries.
You have worked in this industry for several years and you are now general manager of the largest conference centre in the country. What do you see as the secret to running a successful MICE operation in such a globally competitive environment?
I wear my heart on my sleeve and I say what I think. The secret is to be close to my team; I never close the door of my room. We hosted 500 people during the G20 meetings and there were 2,500 people working behind the scenes for 24 hours. There are some days and nights we never stop working and when that happens I even let my colleagues rest or sleep on the sofa in my office.
We not only host conferences and meetings but also concerts, movies, dinners and incentives. I always listen to my customers and visitors and try to manage what they want. I would say the best thing I know is work. I will not tell my age, but I have been working for 35 years. I think the reason why I’m successful in this industry is because people see me as a trustworthy person. In life, you have ups and downs, but what is important is to remain standing and to remain strong, like a tree whose leaves moves in the wind but the trunk remains fixed to the ground.