In the effort to increase product diversity and enhance the year-round viability of the tourism sector, the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) segment is receiving growing attention – both from the government as well as from industry professionals.
As an already well-established MICE destination, the focus is currently on developing the domestic infrastructure to further strengthen the country’s solid position both regionally and globally.
Able to capitalise on its strategic location between Europe, the Middle East, Russia, Ukraine and Central Asia, Istanbul has long been a natural meeting point for governments and corporations. Both of these major organisers of MICE events have been increasing their focus on Istanbul as Turkey’s importance in the world grows, both politically and economically. Given the large number of international corporate headquarters in the city, not to mention rising GDP levels and an expanding globally-linked transportation network, economic growth is prompting Turkish corporates to look for new venues for their events.
Istanbul is far and away the country’s MICE capital. According to the Turkish Tourism Investors Association (TYD), the city now ranks ninth worldwide for the number of congresses it holds, a status that goes up to first when only congresses of more than 500 people are considered. In terms of congresses of over 300 people, it comes second only to Barcelona. The city’s MICE facilities break down into three main areas: the “Congress Valley” in the central district of Harbiye; the airport and exhibition district, by Atatürk Airport, Turkey’s main international gateway; and the business and financial district around Levent, Etiler and Maslak.
Congress Valley, the most central of the MICE facilities available in the city, includes the Istanbul Lütfi Kı rdar International Convention and Exhibition Centre (ICEC). The ICEC is at present able to provide 25 halls and meetings rooms, with seating for approximately 2000 guests in its Anadolu auditorium. The valley is also home to the multipurpose Istanbul Congress Centre.
A second cluster of MICE facilities around the airport holds the World Trade Centre complex, which has 11 exhibition halls including the CNR Expo, with 120,000 sq metres of exhibition space. In the business and financial district, several international hotel chains offer facilities close to the headquarters of many companies and the Istanbul Stock Exchange, which is home to the new Istanbul Culture and Congress Centre.
With MICE central to the government’s Tourism Strategy 2023, the industry is beginning to move out of its traditional bases and develop in other cities. While Ankara remains the focal point for domestic political congresses, Antalya is becoming a centre for commercial MICE activity. “Antalya will become the second-largest city for MICE in Turkey,” İbrahim Keskin, general manager of event management firm SymCon, told OBG. “Izmir too and Kuşadasıare coming along, as are other cities such as Şanl›urfa, where they are also planning a 5000-seat conference centre.”
The southern coastal cities can leverage on growing international air routes – in 2012, Antalya saw more foreign arrivals than Istanbul – and boasts a good year-round climate. Şanl›urfa, meanwhile epitomises the development of the country’s Anatolian heartlands. While there are currently 23 cities in Turkey with over 1m inhabitants some of these are under-provisioned with MICE facilities. The 2023 master plan recognises this, identifying Adana, Gaziantep and Trabzon as three second-tier cities worthy of greater attention, and able to gain government incentives in bringing MICE to town.
The provincial cities may also be able to capitalise on one challenge in Istanbul – finding affordable good quality hotel rooms for MICE participants. “In Europe, everyone complains about hotel prices in Istanbul,” Keskin adds. “Competition here is tough, with pricing going up as competition for rooms is fierce.” Others disagree, pointing to high prices in other European cities. “The average price in the first quarter of 2012 for a hotel room in Geneva was €211,” Levent Egeli, general secretary of TYD, told OBG. “In Istanbul it was €106.”
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