Why Turkey's hotels are uniting behind Booking.com

Istanbul

A group of independent hoteliers in Turkey have spoken out against that nation’s ban on Booking.com, an act that they said has hindered tourism at a time when the sector was already “facing difficulties.”

The OTA is set to appeal the decision, which comes as ongoing geo-political upset in the country deters visitors, although not developers. 

Behind the Ban

The Istanbul Fifth Commercial Court of First Instance has temporarily suspended the activities of Booking.com after the Turkish Association of Travel Agents (TÜRSAB) filed a complaint claiming that it was engaged in unfair competition against Turkish-based hotel and flight booking platforms.

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The decision was part of an ongoing battle between the OTA and TÜRSAB, which, in 2015, saw Booking.com pay Turkey's competition authority a fine of $686,605.

Booking.com responded: “As an e-commerce and technology company, we are convinced that we contribute to healthy competition in the market by offering Turkish consumers a transparent and easy platform to compare and book accommodation all over the world.” The company added that it helped 13,000 Turkish businesses offer accommodation to consumers. 

Some of those 13,000, represented by the Turkish Hoteliers’ Association (TÜROB), attacked the ban. “It is important for Turkish [hotelier] representatives and businessmen to present a moderate, re-conciliatory and inclusive attitude in talks with Booking.com, which is a global player in the [tourism] sector, and opposing reactions may have negative effects on our country’s tourism, which is already facing difficulties,” the association said in a statement.

Troubled Waters

The country’s hoteliers need all the help they can get. Last year’s attempted military coup forced the declaration of a state of emergency, deterring travel to the region. In June, the Ministry of Tourism & Culture reported a 41-percent fall in international arrivals. 

The country remains volatile, with recent attacks include a mass shooting at the Istanbul Reina nightclub on New Year’s Eve which killed 39 people. The U.S. Department of State currently warns travelers of “increased threats from terrorist groups in Turkey.” 

According to the latest provisional data from the country’s Ministry of Tourism & Culture, the number of foreign arrivals between January-February 2017 was 2.2 million, a 8.12-percent decline from the previous year. 

The government has been making efforts in recent years to offer incentives to developers through reduced utility prices and reduced tax rates “while decisively eliminating any bureaucratic barriers that may hinder growth in the tourism sector.”

At the end of March, TUI Group said that it had seen “continued lower demand for Turkey” for its summer 2017 season, “offset by higher demand for other destinations such as the Western Mediterranean and Caribbean.” 

In contrast, fellow package travel agency Thomas Cook was more confident. “After a slow start to the season and a tough year in 2016, we’re seeing early signs that customers are beginning to go back to Turkey and Egypt,” CEO Peter Fankhauser said.

The global operators are continuing to back the region. The beginning of April saw the Rezidor Hotel Group open a Radisson Blu close to the airport in Diyarbakir, southeastern Turkey. “We believe the accessibility factor, combined with the appeal of an iconic international hotel brand, will drive strong demand from domestic and international travelers,” Mark Willis, area VP, Middle East & Turkey, said.

Plans are also in place for a complex of hotels on boats moored on the Euphrates. Hope, it would seem, floats.

Katherine Doggrell is an editor at Hotel Analyst, the U.K.-based news analysis service for hotel investors.

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