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Tue 1 Aug 2006 04:00 AM

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Agent Fam Trip: Istanbul

Air Arabia recently took a small group of UAE-based travel agents on a fam trip to Istanbul to mark the launch of its inaugural flight from Sharjah to the Turkish capital

Modern day Istanbul is a busy city; its roads and waterways are packed with vehicles and boats and the streets are bustling with locals and tourists.

The city straddles the Bosphourous; a narrow finger of water that separates the east part of Turkey from the west, and joins the Black Sea with the Marmara Sea to the south.

The Bosphorous has been of vital importance as a trade and supply route throughout the ages, and a key strategic route that armies have battled over since the city was founded.

Most of the city’s cultural attractions lie within the famed Golden Horn district on the European side of the Bosphorous, where cobbled roads and leafy streets offer a glimpse of times gone by.

But on the Adriatic side there are definite sings that Istanbul is also looking to the future and high-rise buildings dominate the skyline.

Here finance companies and new hotels have opened their doors, paving the way for Turkey’s imminent entry into the European Union.

The Middle East is not one of the major source markets for Turkey’s tourism industry, but with carriers such as Air Arabia now offering flights from AED 199 (US $54) one-way, more UAE nationals in particular likely to head to Istanbul and beyond.

In order to promote what Turkey has to offer Middle East travellers, Air Arabia, which under its new leisure division now offers holiday packages as well as flights to Istanbul, took a small group of travel agents on a three-night trip to Istanbul.

Tourist attractions they visited included St Sophia Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Sultanahmet Mosque (or Blue Mosque), and the Hippodrome of Constantinople.

The group set off from Sharjah Airport on a Thursday night, on one of the carrier’s three weekly flights to Istanbul’s second biggest commercial hub, Sabiha Gökçen Airport.

From here, the journey to the heart of the Golden Horn, the famed old-town where most of the tourist attractions can be found, was 45-minutes by road.

Air Arabia had arranged a three-night stay in the Hotel Ephesus, a 70-room property in Laleli, Istanbul’s oldest neighbourhood.

Hotel Ephesus is a low-cost hotel option, which the members of the group agreed was not appropriate for the market that they were representing.

At the time of the visit, the air-conditioning was not working and the hotel rooms were uncomfortably warm.

Three of the agents on the trip shared their experience with ATN:

Joy Thomas, general man-ager, Al Ahli Travel and Tourist Agency, Deira, Dubai:

“Apart from the hotel, Istanbul was a very beautiful city in many respects; its history, the buildings and palaces, and the friendliness of the people.

Since the fam trip we have been trying to promote it both as a tourist and religious destination.

The large number of mosques and religious sites means that visitors could easily spend their entire trip visiting religious monuments.

It was a little bit expensive compared other short haul destinations, but definitely worth a visit.â€

TP Sudheesh, general manager, Deira Travel & Tourist Agency, Dubai:

“People travelling with a low cost airline don’t necessarily want to spend less on their accommodation.

There are much nicer districts with nicer hotels, which I think would definitely be a better option for my customers.

The climate is ideal for a summer break; it is still warm and the sun is shining, but it’s not humid like in Dubai.â€

Jasim Al Qawadi, chairman, Al Qawadi Travel and Tourism, Khor Fakkan, Sharjah:

“I will go back and tell my staff that they must try to sell holidays to Istanbul.

I have been here several times before and I love it.

I think it is somewhere that would be ideal for family holidays, and I think I will bring my own family here for the summer.â€

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