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Sun 7 Sep 2008 04:00 AM

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Turkish delight

Turkey's leisure industry is on an upward swing, says Selina Denman.

Turkey's leisure industry is on an upward swing, says Selina Denman.

The essential elements are all in place: an established tourism industry that attracts some 23 million visitors per year, a burgeoning real estate sector fuelled by foreign demand and a young, upwardly mobile population. These are auspicious times for Turkey's leisure sector - and even July's bomb blasts in Istanbul were unable to dampen spirits.

An obvious indicator of the country's newfound fortunes is the number of large-scale malls currently under construction. Shopping centre stock in Turkey is set to soar by 60% over the next two years, according to Turkish Retail Market Commentary from Jones Lang LaSalle and Alkas Consulting. A total of 33 new shopping centres came on to the market between January 2007 and February 2008, and a number of additional facilities are scheduled for rollout over the coming months.

Turkey will become the world's leading destination for spa tourism.

The research also noted that entertainment and leisure facilities are a crucial element of this new wave of retail developments. In addition to the expected cinemas and restaurants, Turkey's shopping centres are becoming more adventurous in their offering. Forum Istanbul, which is home to a large aquarium, was cited as one example of this trend.

Aside from the entertainment and retail boom, golf, health club and spa facilities are showing promising outlooks - a reflection of the government's efforts to develop a diverse and varied tourism product.

Sultans of swing

The cultivation of a world-class golfing industry has been a particular priority for the Turkish government and a series of championship courses have sprung up across the country as a result. An acknowledgment of the progress made by this sector over the last decade came from the International Association of Golf Tour Operators (IAGTO), which named Turkey Europe's Best Golf Destination for 2008.

"The award means we have achieved something because we have worked very hard over the last 10 years. We started off with just one course in Turkey, and now we have 14. Over the next two or three years there will be about 30 courses throughout Turkey," says Ali Sahin, chairman of IAGTO's Turkey chapter.

Course designer, Golfplan - Fream, Dale & Ramsey, has already broken ground on a new golf resort in Bodrum. The company's 18-hole course will form part of a wider project featuring a hotel and 4000 villas, scheduled for completion in 2009.

Meanwhile, Turkey's first pure links course, LinksGolf Antalya, is due to open in November as part of the LykiaWorld & LinksGolf Antalya resort. The 603,000m² golf complex will feature an 18-hole, par 72 course designed by Perry Dye. The Antalya area is already home to courses designed by Colin Montgomerie and Nick Faldo and is the heartland of Turkey's golfing industry.

LinksGolf Antalya will complement the resort's recently-opened spa and Ayurvedic wellness centre. The US $8.2 million centre covers 4000m2 and features 24 treatment rooms, including two treatment suites for couples, Ayurvedic massage rooms, a balneotherapy room and a hammam room. The facility is operated by Sebose Spa Consulting and also offers an indoor Japanese pool area.

Roman roots

Turkey's spa and wellness industry is building on a tradition that can be traced back to Roman times. Its 1000-plus thermal springs offered their therapeutical qualities to the Roman legions that inhabited the Anatolia region - and are at the core of the country's wellness industry to this day.

According to the Turkish Geothermal Association, Turkey has more thermal resources than any other country in Europe, and places seventh in the world. As a result, a concentrated effort is underway to position Turkey at the forefront of global ‘thermal tourism' by 2023. The Thermal Tourism Cities Project is being led by Turkey's ministry of culture and tourism and will see a reported $100 million spent on this sector over the coming years.

The Turkish hammam also points to an established tradition of wellness and relaxation in the country.

"Turkish baths play a very important role in Turkish tradition, even though it was the Romans who developed a culture of independent bath construction. The Ottomans not only built baths in the capital but also constructed countless baths across the wide sweep of their empire," explains Narendra Shetty, director of spa at the newly-opened Swissôtel Grand Efes, Izmir.

"Currently, top-of-the-range spas are only located in hotel complexes and there are hardly any standalone facilities. The current growth in the Turkish tourism sector has led to the development of many new resorts, particularly in the south of the country, which have incorporated spas as an essential ingredient," explains Shetty.The hotel's Amrita Spa & Wellness was inaugurated at the beginning of the month, and granted membership of The Leading Spas of the World well before then.

"Our exquisite treatments integrate holistic healing and therapies inspired by ancient eastern and western rituals, which help to balance your inner energy by using lifestyle modification, traditional knowledge of baths, healthy diet, fitness technique and the ancient sciences of Ayurveda and yoga - all leading to a youthful life," Shetty reveals.

The facility will cater to both in-house guests and Izmir's local residents.

I've been familiar with the Turkish market for 20 years and feel that it is now ripe for development.

"We anticipate having approximately 1,000 local members by the end of 2009 and they will be a key segment for the overall spa business," says Shetty.

"People in Turkey have started to accept the fact that the spa is a place for all to enjoy," agrees Cristina Arana, assistant spa manager at Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosphorus.

"They have become more and more comfortable with the idea of relaxing their body and soul in a spa. I believe that the spa industry in Turkey will continue to grow over the coming years and Turkey will become the world's leading destination for spa tourism," asserts Arana.

Launched in July, Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosphorus offers a unique spa product that blends the old and the new.

"The spa and hammam at Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosphorus introduces a decadent approach to the authentic hammam experience, combining the traditional cleansing properties of the bath with the indulgent delights of contemporary, western treatments.," continues Arana.

"Covering an area of 2100m², the spa includes three separate hammams  for men, women and couples - a first in the city. Nine treatment rooms and one VIP spa suite are arranged around a pillared pool, sky-lit from a height of 6.7 metres. The pool features underwater music, whirlpool and poolside relaxation areas," she says.

High-end fitness

While tourism has traditionally driven the development of Turkey's spa industry, growing awareness among the local community is now also having an impact.

"The spa and fitness industry continues to experience considerable growth due to increased awareness on behalf of the local community of healthy lifestyles and lifestyle-related health problems. Most people enrolling at spa and fitness centres recently are all first-time users. An increase in the cost of healthcare services in the country is driving people toward preventative healthcare," says Shetty.

The emergence of a number of standalone fitness facilities is testament to this.

"The last two years have seen the fitness industry in Turkey take off, particularly in the major cities of Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and the summer resorts like Antalya and Bodrum," claims Vittorio Zagaia, vice president of AVV, distributor of Technogym equipment in Turkey.

Turkey's Mars Entertainment Group (MEG) opened its first Mars Athletic Club (MAC) in Istanbul's Kanyon shopping mall in March. The club, which represented an investment of $6 million, has proven so popular that the company is already planning a number of new outlets.

"MAC G-Mall will be open in September in the G-Mall shopping mall in Istanbul. MAC Panora will be opened in September in Ankara. MAC Bebeköy will be opened in November in Bebek, Istanbul and MAC Buyaka will be opened in 2009 on the Asian side of Istanbul. At 13,500m, it will  be the biggest fitness club on the Asian side," says Menderes Utku, deputy president of MEG.

The success of the MAC concept lies in its people, adds Muzaffer Yildirim, chief executive officer of MEG.

"The inside location, sports team and customer services team are very important in any health club. The locations can be designed, but you can never design people. Our sports team has been recruited from positive people who have high energy levels. This team is left to promote their own ideas freely, without any limits," he says.

The average number of members at the MAC fitness centre is kept at around 3500 to ensure that high standards of service are maintained, adds Yildirim.

"The profile of our member and target group is between the ages of 25 and 45, well educated, of a certain social class, social sportsmen, well cared for and finally, followers of the ‘MARS' vision, he says.This, comments Zagaia, is typical of Turkey's fitness sector at present.

"For the moment, investment into fitness and wellness clubs is made by groups investing a large amount of money. Consequently, memberships are very expensive, so they are focusing on a certain part of the population. The same applies for hotels.

"A certain part of the population does take care of its health and can afford to go to clubs. And at least you see some of the rest of the population walking along the seaside in the mornings, since the municipality has invested in open air facilities. But unless there is a chain with a low-cost approach to the market, it'll be hard to see them training on machines," explains Zagaia.

Government initiatives are underway but more education is necessary before healthy living becomes common practice amongst all sections of Turkish society, Zagaia reiterates.

"There isn't a proper approach, even though we have one of the highest rates of heart attacks, cancer and other diseases. The government, NGOs and corporations must be involved," he comments.

According to Zagaia, this presents infinite opportunities for industry stakeholders.

"I believe there are great opportunities for the future. The more information the population receives about wellness and fitness, and about the benefits of moving the body, not only in terms of physical health but also mental, the higher the chance that they will start moving.

"And the more they move, the more business there is for us and for clubs of all sizes," says Zagaia.

Ripe for development

Also steeped in opportunity is Turkey's theme park industry, which is entirely underdeveloped at present, according to industry experts.

 "Several years ago we explored the opportunity for a Paramount-branded attraction in Ankara. Although that specific potential project did not progress to the next phase of discussions, we remain open to opportunities in Turkey, should we find interested parties and viable development opportunities," explains Tom Renger, vice president - business planning and development, Paramount Licensing.

According to Dennis Speigel, president of the US-based International Theme Park Services (ITPS), the market is now ready for such a facility.

"I've been familiar with that market for 20 years and feel that it is now ripe for development. The economy has been getting stronger and there's more disposable income. As a country, when you see emergence like that it allows for the development of different forms of leisure and recreation," he says.

ITPS recently signed an agreement with local company, ORA Istanbul, for the development of a theme park, which is scheduled for completion in 2010.

"This project will offer approximately 35 to 40 different rides and attractions. It's a multi-level facility, with indoor and outdoor elements and will operate on a year-round basis. The project that we are working on is a theme park but that is only one aspect of an overall project. It has retail aspects, a major cinema, hotels and restaurants. The site for the project is one of the best I've ever seen," Speigel details.

He predicts that the park will appeal to a younger demographic and will predominantly cater to the local market.

"I think demographically and thematically, this will be a world-class facility offering a brilliant array of themes, and the rides and attractions will all be of a first-class nature. Culturally, the one common denominator that I find internationally is that everybody wants to have fun. I think the Turkish people and Turkish families will embrace this concept, just as it has been embraced around the world.

"We see a lot of projects and ideas evolve into nothing because it is not the right time for them but I believe that everything is in the right position for this project to be a success. It's a project for a market that's time has come," concludes Speigel.

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