Editor's Blog

What now for Istanbul?

Gleaning any significance from the fluctuating fortunes of destinations in ICCA’s City and Country Rankings is a task beset with problems – but every so often the fall or rise is so stark, so unignorably momentous, it cannot be attributed to the vagaries of the market or slapdash reporting.

The collapse in Istanbul’s standing is a tragic case in point.

In 2016 Istanbul occupied eighth spot in the city rankings, having hosted 148 international association meetings the previous year. Last year the iconic city hosted just 20 similar meetings, an achievement that put it on a par with Poznan, Lund, Denver, Antwerp and Marrakech in 133rd place.

A fall of 125 places in two years must be unprecedented.

If ICCA’s annual statistics show anything, it’s that cities are resilient organisms, but Istanbul’s reputation as an international meetings destination has been battered in a ‘perfect storm’ of calamity and misrule.

In the last 24 months the city has suffered a spate of deadly terrorist attacks, a failed coup, and a series of purges against thousands of citizens, including teachers, journalists and lawyers.

Conflict in neighbouring Syria has added to negative perceptions about Turkey as a whole, while the increasingly authoritarian behaviour of President Erdogan has eroded trust in the West.

It is interesting, nevertheless, to see how quickly the decline has taken place.

Given the extended lead times for international meetings – many are booked years in advance – the precipitous drop-off suggests numerous meetings were cancelled and moved elsewhere.

This adds a twist to the narrative that destinations can rely on association meetings. Sure, all things considered, association meetings are a safer bet than short-lead corporate business. But associations are happy to change destination at the last minute, too, if they feel they have no choice.

It is sad to see a great city – and Istanbul is one of the great cities – increasingly isolated from the world, but there are signs the city’s recovery may already be underway.

After international visitor numbers dropped 41 per cent year on year in June 2016, tourism receipts are up in the first quarter of 2018, and numbers are expected to come in at around 37.9 million by the end of the year.

That’s a decent spike from 2016's 30.9 million and more evidence that people will tolerate a degree of risk, turn a blind eye to the abuse of power, to appreciate the world’s wonders, of which Istanbul has its fair share.

Will this mean a pick-up in international association meetings, too? That will depend on events, but barring another sustained run of violence, it’s hard to see things getting any worse for Istanbul.


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  • Mike Cannon 09/05/2018 Of: Mike Cannon Business Events-Asia Pacific

    Strong and appropriate observations. And with hope for a speedy recovery; good people and mighty destination.