by Deanna Ting | February 12, 2015
This year, the Turkish Culture and Tourism Office is focused on bringing more U.S. visitors -- and U.S. groups -- to Turkey than ever before. At The New York Times Travel Show, held in New York City from Jan. 23 to 25, Murat Karakus, the newly appointed director for the Tourism Office's New York branch, spoke with Successful Meetings about the organization's tourism and meetings strategy for the U.S.

 "Istanbul, in particular, is one of the biggest event destinations in Europe," Karakus told Incentive sister publication Successful Meetings. "We are capable of organizing meetings of any size, and our ranking with ICCA (the International Congress and Convention Association) demonstrates that."

 According to ICCA's 2013 rankings, Turkey was ranked 18th, with 221 international events, and the city of Istanbul placed eighth worldwide, with a total of 146 international meetings. With a GDP of $820 billion, Turkey's economy is the world's 17th largest, and the country welcomed 36.8 million international visitors last year -- an increase of 5.52 percent from 2013 and a record for Turkey.

 Karakus also noted that a favorable exchange rate, coupled with the country's sophisticated tourism infrastructure, makes Turkey a valuable meetings destination for Americans. That infrastructure includes the construction of the brand new Istanbul New Airport. Expected to open by 2017, the airport will be the biggest in Europe, said Karakus, with the third-biggest passenger load in the world with 90 million passengers per year. Turkish Airlines, the country's flagship carrier, is also expanding its flight from the U.S., as is Delta Air Lines.

 The country is also seeing a tremendous amount of international hotel investment, Karakus noted, from companies such as Hilton, Raffles, and Soho House.  

 Another reason why Karakus feels that more U.S. groups will be traveling to Turkey in the near future is because the country is still "a relatively new market."

 "Many travelers don't have much knowledge about Turkey, but when they do get here, they see beyond expectations," Karakus said, adding that the Turkish Culture and Tourism Office has been promoting the country eagerly in the U.S. market for the last 10 years and will continue to do so.

 "We believe that many American haven't yet been to Turkey but will discover it soon," he said. "We've seen stable growth year over year in the numbers."

 Addressing security concerns, Karakus also said, "Turkey is as secure as any other destination in the world. Meeting planners will feel welcome traveling here. And we have wonderful new facilities and accommodations and activities for groups."