Focus on Thessaloniki as tourism investors discover Greece

April 15, 2012, Sunday/ 14:51:00

Very few Turks would pass up an opportunity to enjoy a picturesque view from a Turkish-owned hotel staffed by Turkish-speaking employees on one of the Aegean’s myriad Greek islands.

Greece’s planned “fire sale” of a number of its islands in the Aegean Sea off Turkey’s western coast, as reported in the news, would help this possibility become even more likely.

But, most Turkish entrepreneurs who are interested in investing in Greece have other ideas in mind. Large groups of Turkish businesspeople have spent the past few months organizing trips to different Greek cities and islands to check out investment opportunities in person. Other investors, mostly from Turkey’s coastal resorts, have visited Turkey’s northwestern neighbor more than twice, bringing their friends along. Sunday’s Zaman spoke with Turkish tourism market representatives to better understand what they really think about investing in Greece. Reading between the lines, investing on Greece’s coast sounds more appealing than investing elsewhere in the southern European country. Thessaloniki, also the birthplace of modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, stands out as one of the few Greek cities to which Turkish entrepreneurs could direct their capital.

When Greece first announced a plan to privatize many Greek assets, including some of the islands, to raise 50 billion euros in revenue to avoid a possible default last summer, Turkish entrepreneurs were quick to appear with business plans, particularly for the islands. The issue of Turks acquiring some of Greece’s land assets was also discussed in detail during a recent visit by a large group of Greek government officials to İstanbul. The latest remarks from Turkish tourism investors signal possible investment plans may be switching focus to coastal Greek cities.

Turkish Association of Travel Agents (TÜRSAB) President Başaran Ulusoy told Sunday’s Zaman that Turkish investors are particularly interested in opportunities to run hotels, restaurants or shopping malls in Greece. “We are considering tourism investments in Thessaloniki and Athens, but it is too early to make any comments in any specific detail.” Noting that Turkish tourism investors are relatively more inclined to invest in coastal tourism, he said new contacts between Turkish and Greek businessmen will determine whether Turkish investments are made in the country.

Evaluating the tourism investment opportunities in Greece to Sunday’s Zaman, Turkish Tourism Investors Association (TYD) head Turgut Gür said Greek hoteliers from Thessaloniki contacted some of the union’s members to discuss possible partnerships. “They told us about hotels and assets on the islands of Corfu, Rhodes and Crete. Our Greek counterparts said they needed assistance to restructure their businesses. … They also wanted to learn from our experience to upgrade standards at their own tourism facilities. We are now calculating options to decide how to invest our capital in Greece,” he noted. Underlining that the Turkish tourism sector is reputed as one of the world’s best providers of service, Gür said the country has tourism investments in nearby markets such as Azerbaijan, Croatia and Dubai, and added that Greece should not be ignored, either. According to Gür, Turks could also construct time-share facilities on Greek islands to later sell them to customers from around the world.

There are around 110 hotels currently operating in Thessaloniki, with 11 of them five-star facilities. Pronto Tour Manager Ali Onaran is one of the Turkish tourism investors who has been to the Greek city. “I have had talks with some hotel owners in Thessaloniki, but I initially found the prices too high to afford. I am expecting them to revise their offers, and then we could consider buying a hotel there,” he said. Onaran cites hotels in the city center and resort-type hotels as attractive investments. His tour agency has “serious investment plans for Thessaloniki,” he continued, adding that the city’s geographic proximity to Turkey is an advantage.

The Turkish Hoteliers’ Association (TUROB) is soon going to Greece with a number of tourism investors from İstanbul, İzmir and other major tourism resorts. After, they will visit Kavalla and Rhodes before coming back home. “Although it is too soon to talk, I personally expect some investment deals to emerge during this visit. I believe other Turkish tourism investors and unions will also see the opportunities first-hand by visiting Greece,” he explained.

Another Turkish tour operator executive, Travel Ser-Vis General Manager Şermin Akdoğan, said she has an increasing number of friends in the sector who are considering investments in Greece. “We hear that the prices of hotels that are on sale are affordable for most Turkish tourism entrepreneurs. There are also Turkish firms looking to acquire real estate in Greece, and we are one of them,” she said, adding that a final decision has not yet been made. One prominent fact is that Turkish tourists’ interest in Greek resorts is higher than ever, Akdoğan said, a development that should urge Turkish hoteliers to take advantage of this increasing demand.

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