Istanbul, continuing to be the locomotive of the Turkish economy today as it did in the past, meets 31.2 percent of the national gross domestic product alone. Half of Turkey’s imports and exports carried out are done from Istanbul. Istanbul, the capital of industry, trade, finance, and culture, continues to lead and inspire many cities in the world. We held an exclusive interview with Ekrem İmamoğlu for ITM News, who was sat in the seat of the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality in June 2019. We talked to İmamoğlu about the importance of megacity Istanbul regarding world trade, the steps and projects that should be taken for Istanbul to become a city of ‘exhibitions and congresses’ and the gains and benefits of organizing international exhibitions such as ITM in Istanbul. Saying that they aim to be among the top 10 cities in the world in the first place in congress and exhibition tourism, Mayor İmamoğlu indicated the following: ‘‘Of course, our ultimate goal is to be in the first place as we were before.’’ Istanbul is a truly global trademark in the field of tourism with its unique natural structure, historical and cultural accumulation and diversity. In terms of its geopolitical location, it is the meeting point of the east and the west. First of all, can you please describe the importance of megacity Istanbul in terms of the world trade? Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey, and that is not only in terms of population. At the same time, it pioneers and inspires many cities both in Turkey and in the world in many sectors such as trade, finance, technology, fashion, arts, education, culture, and entertainment. We can confidently say that Istanbul is Turkey’s industrial, commercial, financial and cultural capital. Istanbul continues to be the locomotive of the Turkish economy today as it did in the past. Istanbul meets 31.2 percent of the national gross domestic product alone. Half of Turkey’s imports and exports carried out are done from Istanbul. Approximately one-third of the companies in Turkey and tourism revenues are originated in our city. Due to its geopolitical location, it can carry out finance trade in the same time period with many regions of the world, especially with the Far East, Europe, and Africa. In addition to considering all these facts, of course, the problems in the economy have affected the commercial and industrial sectors of Istanbul negatively and continue to affect them. If things go well in Istanbul, Turkey’s economy also continues to develop and grow. If the economic progress in Istanbul gives the high sign then so does the Turkish economy. We can easily say that the signal flares of the economy of Turkey are in Istanbul.
■ In recent years, arrangements and new road works that facilitate in-city, out-of-city and international transportation have made Istanbul a city easily accessible from all over the world. We also know that you have significant projects in this regard. What kind of contributions will your emerging transportation projects that will be realized have especially in exhibition tourism?
First of all, I must emphasize that one of the most important civilization indicators of a city is the level of public transportation in that city. Many developed cities of the world have solved the problem of transportation with underground and aboveground rail systems networks. In most of these cities, while transportation with the rail system reaches close to 80 percent, this rate barely reaches 25 percent in Istanbul. Unfortunately, we are not at the point we desire. We have to change this rate. Our efforts are in this direction. We are talking about a city with approximately 31 million 700 thousand daily trips with the figures for 2018. This number is expected to reach 36 million 800 thousand in 2023. For this reason, we need to take urgent and powerful measures in public transportation and implement the projects as soon as possible. When we took the office, there were subway lines, the construction of which had been stopped for two years. We have given our priority to these lines. Through the loans we received internationally, we immediately restarted the construction of three metro lines. On the other hand, we will put our subway and tram lines under construction into service in the first half of this year. We are working to increase the share of maritime transportation in overall transportation. We thoroughly evaluated this issue with the Marine Workshop that we organized. The 24-hour uninterrupted transportation that we have realized on national and religious holidays, in addition to the weekends, has made a significant contribution to our city, especially in the culture, art, entertainment and tourism sectors. This was an urgent need for Istanbul, where city life continues almost 24 hours. Both our citizens and the tourists who came to visit our city were very pleased with this application. Speaking of which, I would like to express that our citizens have intense demands for Marmaray to be included in this system. The decrease in time spent in traffic will make a great contribution not only to exhibition tourism but also to the overall tourism industry, including congress tourism.
‘‘AS THE ISTANBUL METROPOLITAN MUNICIPALITY, WE WILL CONTINUE TO SUPPORT ALL KINDS OF ORGANIZATIONS THAT PROVIDE CONTRIBUTIONS TO OUR CITY’’
■ Istanbul occupies an important position in terms of exhibition organization due to transit flights and visa exemption. As a matter of fact, because of the difficulties of obtaining a Schengen visa, citizens of countries such as Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Iran, and Iraq, who cannot attend or encounter troubles in attending exhibitions in Europe, can easily participate in exhibitions in Istanbul. What kind of activities can be performed in order to bring more visitors to Istanbul from these geographies?
Exhibition organizations are held in cooperation with exhibition organizers, central administrations and the local government authorities. Istanbul possesses an advantageous position due to its availability for transit flights as well as its high international recognition. Istanbul is in contact with many parts of the world because of the background of its historical, cultural, national and spiritual values. The aforementioned countries are the countries that we have good friendship relations from the past to the present. We want to develop city diplomacy and establish good relations not only with these countries but also with many countries in the world. During my trips to Europe, I saw that Istanbul received a great favor for the victory of democracy obtained. They want to enhance their relationships with Istanbul even more. As the Metropolitan Municipality, I would like to emphasize that we are and will continue to support all organizations that will provide contributions to our city.
■ There is a concept called ‘’city of exhibitions and congresses’’ that emerged in the world. Exhibitions not only improve the city commercially in which it is organized but also in terms of economy and tourism. Since large exhibitions of this scale bring a significant tourist intensity, the infrastructure of the city, transportation and accommodation facilities should be sufficient. What are your suggestions and projects about Istanbul being a city of exhibitions and congresses?
Unfortunately, Istanbul does not get the share it deserves from tourism compared to other cities in the world. For this reason, one of our first actions as the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality was to establish the tourism platform. This platform carries out its activities with a transparent, fair and participatory approach in which all peers and partners of tourism participate. We decide on our tourism projects here. We aim to put Istanbul tourism in the top 3 in terms of the number of visitors and the top 10 in terms of income, worldwide. We attach great importance to congress tourism. Istanbul once captured the first position in congresses with more than 500 participants and the second position in congresses with more than 300 participants, but the city couldn’t keep its seat. The point we are in today is not heartwarming at all. In the first place, we want to get in the list of top 10 cities in the world in congress and exhibition tourism. Of course, our ultimate goal is to have in the first place as before.
‘‘WE WILL EVALUATE THE INVESTMENTS TO IMPROVE EXHIBITION TOURISM WITH ALL STAKEHOLDERS
■ The exhibition sector, which we name as the fluefree industry, makes a significant contribution to the national economies. For example; approximately 10 million people visited the exhibition organized in Germany in 2018. Between the years 2014 and 2017, the expenditures of the participants in the exhibitions in Germany were close to 14.5 billion Euros. What kind of steps should be taken by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality together with international exhibition organizers, professional organizations such as Istanbul Chamber of Commerce and the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey in order to enhance the exhibition sector in our country which provides a big contribution to the national economy?
We will carry out the Istanbul Tourism Platform Tourism Vision Workshop to enhance tourism opportunities in Istanbul. We will consider congress and exhibition tourism as separate titles. Together with all its peers and partners, we will also evaluate the measures and investments to be taken to improve exhibition tourism. In addition, our meetings continue with the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce, professional organizations, Exhibition Industry Organizations, and experts on this subject. I would like to express that we will contribute to the creation of new fair areas and the organization operations of international exhibitions.
■ Countries such as Germany, which host nearly 200 exhibitions annually, are developing serious projects to increase the number of exhibitors and visitors. One of them is the combined ticket application. People who go to Germany for the exhibitions can benefit from transportation free of charge and can attend conferences and workshops organized within the exhibition, again free of charge. What kind of projects can be developed to attract more exhibitors and visitors to Istanbul? What are your thoughts on this subject?
We are working on ways to make İstanbulkart, which has 18 million active users, more effective. İstanbulkart differs from many transportation cards in the world such as New York City Pass (New York City) or the Oyster Card (London) by the scope of its usage area. In addition to transportation payment, it offers payment opportunities in contracted markets, city beaches, toilets, Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality Social Facilities, Beltur Cafes, water vending machines, İspark car parks, iTaksi, and bicycle rentals. It facilitates the payment of our citizens at 9,200 points, including means of transportation. Also, HAVAIST vehicles that transfer passengers to Istanbul Airport accept to be paid only with İstanbulkart. The fact that İstanbulkart is open to mobile use also provides great convenience to users. I would like to express that we are always ready to cooperate with those who are in charge of this organization in order to expand the usage area of İstanbulkart and to enable it to be used in exhibition and congress areas.
‘‘I AM PLEASED THAT THE ITM EXHIBITION IS ORGANIZED IN ISTANBUL’’
■ As Tüyap and Teknik Exhibition Organization, we coordinate the ITM International Textile Machinery Exhibition, one of the most important exhibitions of the world in the field of textile machinery. The ITM 2018 Expo, which we organized last year and which you also honored, hosted 1150 companies from 64 countries and approximately 60 thousand visitors from 94 countries. Close to 14,500 visitors came from abroad only. What are your opinions about the ITM Exhibition being held in İstanbul? Can you please share your thoughts on the contributions of the ITM Exhibition to the Turkish economy and the textile sector?
The ITM Exhibition is a very important trade exhibition for the textile industry as well as the economy of Istanbul and Turkey. I would also like to express my gratification that it is being organized in İstanbul. The importance of textile machinery and technology, which is produced with an understanding that takes the environmental and climatic issues that rapidly changes in the world into consideration, is increasing day by day. By creating a balance of protection and utilization, a sustainable environment and understanding of life should be kept in mind in this sector as well. Istanbul possesses an important position in the world textile industry. I believe that such exhibitions will contribute to the development of the sector and the economy.
■ The ITM 2020 Expo is planned to be much larger than previous ITM Exhibitions, both in terms of participation and space. As the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, what kind of support and conveniences can you provide to our exhibitors and visitors who are in Istanbul for the ITM 2020 Expo between 2 and 6 June 2020?
I must emphasize that we are extremely happy to host this event. As the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, I would like you to know that we will always show our support and assistance to our extent.