Speak to any Dubai resident about Turkey and the conversation inevitably turns to Noor or Fatmagul – two TV series that are part of the Turkish soap opera craze that has got UAE residents hooked on life in their Anatolian neighbour.
Cultural ties, however, are not the only area in which UAE-Turkey relations have seen a boon in recent years. Trade between the two Middle Eastern nations has sped past the target of reaching US$10bn a year by 2015, with officials now eyeing trade of US$15bn by next year. Just three years ago, trade between the two nations stood at around US$5bn annually.
Business and trade ties have flourished as both nations pivot towards emerging markets in search of new trading partners. As UAE-Turkey trade shot up 288 per cent in 2012, according to an Abu Dhabi-Turkey Business Forum, an HSBC Global Research report predicted that Turkey will become the UAE’s second most important export destination by 2030 – it currently sits outside the top five.
In this growing sphere of intra-regional ties, the UAE’s geographical and cultural proximity to Turkey is creating fresh opportunities for business.
Jumeirah Group, the Dubai-based international luxury hotel chain, is poised to take advantage. Its first foray into the Turkish market came in 2012, when it took over management of the prestigious, museum-status Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul. Now, new additions to the portfolio are expected in the southern tourist hotspots of Antalya and Bodrum over the next three to five years, according to Pera Palace’s general manager, Pinar Timer.
“Jumeirah is ready to really elevate investment in different parts of Turkey,” says Timer. “The Turkish population is 75 million, 65 per cent of whom are under 30 years old. It’s an extremely young generation that is ready to spend, so it’s a great spot to be in.”
Undergoing a four year, €23m (US$32m) restoration and upgrade, the Pera Palace Hotel Jumeirah – which originally opened its doors in 1895 in the city’s Beyoğlu district – is at the vanguard of growing UAE-Turkish tourism. The number of UAE visitors to Turkey rose by more than 50 per cent in May 2013 compared with the same period in 2012, according to figures from Turkey’s tourism ministry.
The tie-up between Jumeirah and Turkey’s Demsa Group in Istanbul is already bearing fruit. The belle-époque Pera Palace has seen a 200 per cent jump in UAE guests since 2012, notes Timer, but there is plenty of room to grow. Visitors from the emirates currently make up just 5 per cent of guests, following in the footsteps of European literati such as Agatha Christie and Ernest Hemingway.
“Over the last two years we have seen more visitors from GCC countries, mainly from the UAE,” explains Timer. “Turkey is one of the main countries in which to extend the [Jumeirah] brand.”