4 Days in Istanbul for the 2016 World Tourism Forum Global Meeting

Blue Mosque from afar

Istanbul’s Blue Mosque from afar

On February 5, the second day of the 2016 World Tourism Forum Global Meeting wrapped, thus concluding the time I’d spend at Istanbul’s Lütfi Kırdar International Conference & Exhibit Center.

Istanbul, as I wrote back in January, is a phenomenal city. Befitting its host, this year’s Global Meeting—just the second ever—was rich in perspective worth bringing home as a travel professional. A roster of more than 100 speakers was headlined by the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (feelings on him aside, he is a man of tremendous authority). Light was shed honestly on the travel-inhibiting and larger anxieties shaping the world today—notably by non-American influencers like Jose Manuel Barroso, former European Commission president. Tourism directors like Iceland’s Inga Hlin Palsdottir and ministers from Ghana, Macedonia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey opened up about best practices, and the blogging panels, as facilitated by Murat Özbilgi’s Blogger Casting, were sincerely productive, fair and well-executed—likely the best I’ve seen on the subject.

More than 7,000 participants filed in and out of rooms of alternating size over the three days, collecting insight and business cards, and Istanbul and the whole of Turkey were better for it. In only its second year as an illuminator, the World Tourism Forum Global Meeting proved itself to be a spotlight of real, trickle-down value. That was the consensus from all that I heard weigh in.

Here, delivered loosely, are my takeaways from the experience—including an inside look at the Istanbul hotel I stayed at:

A few highlights from the forum

  • Presenter/host Leyla Köselerli — Right away, Köselerli called the 2016 World Tourism Forum Global Meeting “the most precious world tourism event.” Nice, ambitious, unexpected phrasing.
  • Mark Tanzer, Chief Executive, ABTA — The head of Britain’s largest travel association opened with the ingredients of the ideal vacation, as culled from an in-flight magazine poll of travelers: Spanish climate, Japanese transport, Turkish food, Jamaican beaches, and a British sense of humor. Interesting. He also spoke about the realities of safety and the long-term sustainability of tourism, noting that “shareholder returns must not be the only measurements.” As he acknowledged changes driven by the blossoming sharing economy, he explained that there is a “whole legal industry built on defining who is responsible for safety” when “everyone in the supply chain should be responsible for safety.”
  • Jose Manuel Barroso, former European Commission president — Likely my favorite session, or at least message. The former president was no longer restricted in talking points by his title (his “sincerity is increasing every day,” he acknowledged with a smile), and so he aimed his soundbites at the world as a whole, with tourism as “one of the greatest forces for good” in that larger context. “The rise of populism should not be underestimated,” he said (offering America and Donald Trump a callout). We are being tested in “our capacity not only to fight terrorism but to be transnational”, he said, calling for not tighter but smarter borders. And finally, said Barroso: “I want to keep the world open. That is my sincere wish.” My favorite quote of the event.
  • Sani Şener, President & CEO, TAV Airports Holding — The man atop an airport empire (TAV operates 14 airports and has a “footprint” in 70) talked about the future of “collaboration and connectivity” in an airport context and used a very appropriate analogy of a challenge faced by a hybrid car manufacturer (they couldn’t figure out the issue until the engineers and brake guys came together directly). Insight from the other side of airport operation was also fascinating in general.
  • Online Tourism session — Rolf Schrömgens (Co-Founder and Co-CEO, Trivago), Bas Lemmens (CEO, Roomlr) and Terry Kane (Head of Travel, Instagram & Facebook) delivered an entertaining education in the online workings of their respective travel behemoths. The prospect of “microjobs” came up at the end as a materializing vision of the future (the justification being that an individual holding a single job at a single employer is inefficient).
  • Jambu Palaniappan, Regional General Manager for Eastern Europe, Middle East & Africa, Uber — An articulate and likable guy who took his audience from Uber’s San Francisco beginnings in 2010 to its operations in 361 cities and 68 countries today, filtering out wisdom gained and notable decisions made along the way. In detailing how “tourism is an incredible growth lever” for Uber and a tool of globalization, he noted that 30% of Uber riders in Istanbul are tourists and that tourism hotspots are some of the top pickup locations. Palaniappan also shared some of Uber’s vision for the future (UberPOOL being part of it) and used some killer presentation slides.
  • Social Media and Digital Outputs session — Martin Widenka (Social Media Manager & Creative Lead,‎ Thomas Cook), Catharina Fischer (Consultant and Partner, Tourismuszukunft) and Ann Tran (a Forbes top-10 influencer) expounded on the relationships sewn among modern travel media, destinations, providers, and more. All three were concise and insightful from my chair.
  • Mario Hardy, CEO, Pacific Asia Travel Association — From his keynote on travel innovation: “When people travel, they don’t want to be spectators; they want to be actors,” and much more. He’s also a sincere and thoughtful guy, as I found as I spent some time with him and his wife at the gala (below).
  • Blogging sessions (2) — Broken into two panels, with Murat moderating both times, this was a success. Jacey Brasse (Independent Traveller), Yoshke Dimen, Cezar Dumitru (Imperator Travel), Kristin Francis (Souvenir Finder), Nick (half of Goats on the Road), Tim Leffel, and Jonathan Howe (half of Two Monkeys Travel Group) all deserve thanks for helping define a new band of travel writers on this international stage.
  • Gala — Not so much a part of the 2016 World Tourism Forum Global Meeting as an optional luxury upgrade that Blogger Casting was kind enough to secure us invitation to. At the truly spectacular Çırağan Palace Kempinski Istanbul, a former sultan’s palace on the banks of the Bosphorus, the collective efforts of forum participants to empower travel were rewarded with drinks, a performance by a guy who is apparently a Turkish music idol, an award ceremony (winners here), and simply the chance to just be at the Çırağan Palace Kempinski Istanbul.

 

Room at The W Istanbul

Room at The W Istanbul

The W Istanbul
On this third visit to Istanbul, I got to know a bit of the upscale Beşiktaş district, a full peninsula north of the famed old city. The conference center was there, as was my hotel: The W Istanbul. Like any W, the property was sleek, playfully modern and comfortable, in this case with pink accent lights as the defining visual. The toilet, shower and sink all receded into their own areas, behind doors that closed, a combined feature that I liked. Having slept in a $14/night Bucharest Airbnb the two nights prior to arriving, I admit that I would have luxuriated in any hotel room, but the fact remains that I really enjoyed my three nights at The W.

Hallway at The W

Pink: hallway at The W

Whenever I stumble into nicer accommodations, I’m really just after a comfortable bed, a good shower, and fast and free Wi-Fi—and perhaps some local/aesthetic personality. The W came through on all counts, adding the convenience of light switch and outlet options in my room, a daybed that I lay on because it was there (also in my room), free local calls and use of a 3G-connected smartphone (someone suggested using it to tether my own phone or device around the city, a great idea), and a nice breakfast (no made-to-order option, though).

I got turned around a few times walking between my room and the entrance, but no big deal there. All in all, a great option starting at €140/night (or €155 with breakfast).

Tip: Feel free to pay for the breakfast, but I suggest speaking to the in-house “W Insider” and finding a good spot to enjoy menemen.

More on Blogger Casting
As my host, Blogger Casting earns one last callout for its role as an ally of the worldwide travel blogging initiative. In the panels it led, but also at the evening activities it coordinated, Blogger Casting facilitated roundedness and better writing the right way: by synthesizing the human connections that equip people to both live and write more thoughtfully. Organically, I would likely not have met the two Istanbul-based bloggers I hung out with on brewery night, but with Blogger Casting’s help, I did—and my conversations with them did more to shift my own global narrative than anyone or anything else I encountered during the forum. Thanks, Murat. If you want to get involved with or know more about Blogger Casting, the website is in Turkish, so I don’t know, maybe follow them on Twitter?

Ian Livingston

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About the Author

Ian Livingston
Traveler and writer Ian Livingston has lost his bearings in 59 countries, six continents and five NYC boroughs. He is better for it. Now living in Brooklyn, he reports on the world's lesser-known quantities as a self-calibrating writer and by way of his roles as Editor at JohnnyJet.com and Chat Manager for the weekly #TravelSkills Twitter chat with Johnny Jet and Chris McGinnis. In his sights now: the polar regions.

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