Interview: Kadir Topba ş
What changes to the city’s infrastructure could improve accessibility for tourists?
KADIR TOPBAŞ Ş: Despite the global economic crisis, the number of tourists visiting Istanbul has risen by 300% since 2004. By the end of 2011, 10m tourists visited Istanbul, while approximately 30m came to Turkey in total.
Istanbul is one of the fastest growing tourist destinations in the world, alongside New York and Amsterdam. To keep up, Istanbul’s tourism infrastructure is improving at a fast pace. About 60% of the TL49bn (€20.83bn) invested in the city in the last eight years was allocated to public transport, and this has improved accessibility for both tourists and locals.
We are planning a new airport to relieve air traffic on the European side of the city, which receives 900 flights per day. This new plan indicates that the new airport will have a capacity of 100m passengers per year. We are also planning construct two new cruise ports, one on each side of the city. At the same time we are transforming our current ports to serve as cruise ports. These projects, along with the imminent completion of the Marmaray underwater tunnel connecting Europe to Asia, will make us more internationally accessible.
Finally, we have also continued developing pedestrian projects to help improve inner-city commuting. This will help relieve traffic congestion and make it easier to walk shorter distances. As a result, locals are also benefitting from these changes, as travelling from one point to another becomes easier.
As Istanbul has become a top destination for conferences and events, how has the increased need for hotels in the centre affected city planning?
TOPBAŞ: Because of our goal to become a top destination for tourists, whether they are here for business or pleasure, the ability to meet hotel demand is crucial. Therefore, we have reorganised the city’s need for hotels accordingly. While a 25-sq-metre room is sufficient for an individual, you need 80 sq metres of hotel space per person. In this respect we have increased the constructible area for hotel developments to encourage and incentivise private sector participation.
The fact that Istanbul’s bed capacity has increased by over 23,000 since 2004 is a clear indication of the support we have given hotels to expand to be able to accommodate visitors. In eight years, Istanbul has seen 630 new hotels enter the market, and there are 92 more hotels currently under construction.
Building enough accommodation is crucially important to expanding the city’s ability to host high standard international events. According to an evaluation by the International Congress and Convention Association, Istanbul ranked seventh in the world in hosting global events and conferences in 2011. Considering that we ranked 49th 12 years ago, the progress is clear.
Istanbul was selected as the European Capital of Sport in 2012. How integral is that to the long-term plan of becoming a host for the Olympic Games?
TOPBAŞ: Frankly, the selection of European Capital of Sport 2012 is an important step on the way to hosting the 2020 Olympic Games. We are at an important stage when it comes to international sports organisations: so far, we have hosted the Champions League and UEFA Cup final games, Formula 1, Moto GP, the World Basketball Championship and World Wrestling Championship. We will also continue hosting the Women’s Tennis Association Championships at the Sinan Erdem Dome – the third largest indoor sports arena in Europe.
These are taking place in addition to a number of locally planned events like the Eurasia Marathon and the Boğaziçi Water Sports Competition, which have attracted international audiences. It is very fitting that when Istanbul was selected as 2012’s European Capital of Sport, the president of the European Capital of Sport Association, Gian Francesco Lupatelli, specifically acknowledged that Istanbul earned the name.
The city has long proven its ability and drive to host the Olympic Games. We will continue to serve as a destination for sporting events for the rest of the region.
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