Most visitors rank it amongst the most exciting and vibrant cities in the world. While not matching the tourist inflows of Europe's top destinations, Istanbul is looking to make up ground on rival cities. That is through a combination of conventional tourism - dependent on the city's historical, cultural sites and shopping - in addition to the business segment, with foreign businessmen attending conventions and conferences.
Like the rest of Turkey's tourism industry, Istanbul has set its sights on some ambitious targets. The city attracted an estimated 5.5m tourists in 2006. According to Ergun Gungor, the Deputy Governor of Istanbul, the number of tourists entering Istanbul increased by 28.5% during the first three months of 2007, compared to the same period the year before. Gungor also pointed out that a 25% increase in tourist flows for 2007 would translate into close to 7m visitors by the year-end. A consistent 15% increase in tourist numbers for the next 4 years would see numbers hit 10m by 2010. Istanbul is clearly looking to close the gap on Europe's urban hotspots, including London with its 15.2m foreign tourists in 2006, while inner Paris recorded an estimated 27m foreign visitors the same year.
To meet its target, the governor's office has engaged in a campaign to increase the inflow of foreign tourists. The 3rd Istanbul Tourism Festival, held in April 2007 - gathering representatives of the industry and public - was notable in this regard. Meanwhile, the Touristic Hotels & Investors Association (TUROB) continues to push ahead with various initiatives, including the Istanbul Destination Project and Istanbul Shopping Festival, to promote the city and develop its pulling power. More importantly, the EU named Istanbul the European Cultural Centre for year 2010.
Back in December 2006, Guven Tasbasi, the former deputy governor of Istanbul predicted that Istanbul would not only pull in 10m tourists by 2010 but also earn 500m euros in income from the industry.
Promoters have had little trouble selling Istanbul as a convention and conference centre, given its proximity to Europe, the Middle East and Former Soviet Union (FSU) along with its rich history and range of entertainment options. Hosting the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Summit, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Conference for Ministers Responsible for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, the World Newspaper Congress and Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in 2004 drew the international spotlight onto the city. In 2007, Istanbul hosted such events as the Eastern Mediterranean International Tourism & Travel Fair (EMITT) with 2000 attendees, along with the 4th World Mayors' Summit, hosting 196 mayors and 24 international organisations. The facilities offered by the likes of the Istanbul Lutfi Kirdar Convention and Exhibition Centre, the World Trade Centre Istanbul (WTCI) and TURYAP Exhibition Halls have clearly tempted event organisers.
Convention and conference facilities have not been the only sources of attraction. The Champions League football final in May 2005 along with the opening of the F1 Grand Prix circuit in August that year played their part. With an attendance of 110,000 spectators, out of which 50,000 were non-Turks, Istanbul's first ever F1 race not only brought in a swell of tourism revenue but also a concomitant amount of publicity.