Nurettin Onur Boğ: What can be done for our country to gain a larger share in the international congress sector?

We believe that our country needs technical and financial support in terms of promotion and marketing, and a separate planning system for congress tourism in order to gain a larger share in the international congress sector

Our congress center was constructed for the ‘European Wrestling Championships’ held on June 3, 1949, and was inaugurated on the same date as the Istanbul Sports and Exhibition Palace. Later that same year, on October 2, our building hosted its first fair, the ‘Istanbul International Trade and Industry Fair.’ On February 17, 1988, the name of our building was changed to Istanbul Lütfi Kırdar Sports and Exhibition Palace. In 1996, following the decision of the United Nations to hold the Habitat II Summit in Istanbul, it was transformed into an international congress center and has since continued to serve the tourism industry under the name Istanbul Lütfi Kırdar International Congress and Exhibition Palace. The Habitat II Summit, the largest and most comprehensive conference of the United Nations in the late 20th century, was successfully completed here.

This year, we are celebrating the 75th anniversary of our main building, and to highlight our 75 years of knowledge, experience, and expertise in the market where we operate in Turkey, we have created a special logo for our 75th year. We will be using this logo across all our corporate channels throughout 2024. Our facility consists of 2 main buildings; in our Rumeli Halls, we mostly host fairs and gala dinners for 2000-2500 people, while the Anadolu Auditorium, located in the center of our main building, is home to musicals, symphony orchestras, film galas, conferences, and congresses, equipped with an orchestra pit, advanced stage and auditorium acoustic technologies.

Our facility includes a total of 40 dividable and soundproof halls, which allows us to host multiple events simultaneously with these features. Additionally, our halls, with their daylight-filled, flat-floored designs, are suitable for all setups such as classroom, theater, and boardroom arrangements. Located in Congress Valley, where Istanbul’s culture, arts, and business communities converge, the Istanbul Lütfi Kırdar Congress and Exhibition Palace has the capacity to host a wide range of events, from international congresses and meetings to fairs and exhibitions, from cocktails to gala dinners, and from film galas to cultural and artistic activities, thanks to its technical infrastructure and food and beverage services. On average, we host around 200 events annually at our center. The primary goal of many of the events we host is communication and interaction. With the pandemic process, we see that communication channels and platforms, which had to digitalize, are returning to their old form with the desire and longing for face-to-face communication and gathering by the last quarter of 2023. We observe this change in the occupancy rates of our center and other event venues in the market.

The majority of the events at our center are composed of fairs and congresses. Since the inauguration of the Lütfi Kırdar International Congress and Exhibition Palace in 1996 and the hosting of HABITAT at our facility, our country has become an important congress destination capable of hosting large congresses and maintained its appeal in the following years. However, we witnessed a slowdown in this rise from 2010, followed unfortunately by a decline. We see this as caused by both security issues in our country and our surrounding region, and by other countries increasing their investments and support in this market. For example, we can say that many high-budget congresses and fairs held in Turkey between 2000 and 2010 have since taken place in Dubai and Eastern European countries.

We believe that in order for our country to gain a larger share in the international congress sector, it needs technical and financial support from a marketing perspective, as well as a separate planning system specifically for congress tourism. At this point, subsidizing congress and fair processes with government support, as is done in leading countries in other sectors, is one of the most crucial needs for the development of congress tourism. Congresses and fairs held in our country create direct and indirect new revenue streams for our total tourism revenues and provide a significant alternative to our promotional and marketing channels. Therefore, as mentioned above, a separate planning system and government support for congress and fair tourism will greatly enhance our sectoral success. In 2024, we aim to increase the number of congresses, fairs, and events we host by 45% compared to the previous year. Additionally, increasing the number of our cultural and arts events this year is another target, setting us apart from previous years.