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Discovering historical and luxurious incentive programs in Istanbul, Turkey

By: Tracey Bockhop, CMP

If you have been in the meeting industry for longer than a year you have probably heard about all the hype on Istanbul, Turkey. But have you ever considered if for an incentive destination? While perceptions of Istanbul vary from person to person, it's now on my list of the top cities for international incentive travel. After spending four amazing days there on my latest site visit, it is hard to know where to begin to explain why this is the ideal incentive trip and meeting location. A city so packed with history is hard to comprehend in just a few short days.

Istanbul sits on both Asia and Europe and the locals do not hold back when they talk about either side of the river. The Bosphorus Strait divides the two sides of pure beauty. The Strait is nothing short of breathtaking where the homes on the strait can only be owned by residents of Turkey. The streets are narrow and the architecture stunning.

The trip was planned and executed by MEP, a Destination Management Company located in Istanbul, and they made it seamless. As my flight landed, I was quickly whisked away by an airport representative. From there, I basically did not have to think for myself for four days. I stayed at the Shangri-La Bosphorus situated right on the Bosphorus Strait, ideal for walking to restaurants and smaller markets and a true sight to see. The city highlights a diverse scenery and culture. I was immediately drawn to the Mosques, specifically the Blue Bosque, which we toured. Remember to be mindful of the dress code. Shoes must be removed and women must cover their heads and arms and legs to enter. Guests must also be aware of the five times they have prayer services during the day, as you are not allowed to take photos at those times. As you continue your journey and walk along the streets you will find many “salespeople” trying to sell you a bit of their culture. The Turkish Lira is the monetary choice by most however, the US dollar goes a long way. Explore the spice markets and bizarre freely and truly capture what makes Istanbul special. The scents you experience while walking through the markets are unique and your taste buds will dance. Then, a walk underground will take you to the Underground Bascilica Cistern or ‘Sunken Palace” which was used in time of distress and is now a popular tourist attraction.

And no trip to Turkey would be complete without a ride down the Bosphorus Strait. The water is clear and the sights are endless. When you bring a group it is recommended to tour the Strait on board a yacht, where guests can learn the city and sights and capture the magnitude of the city from a tour guide while enjoying lunch or a Turkish tea. You can have a bus meet your guests at another location and transport them back to hotel via street or make it a round trip via waterway.

One last experience you must have before leaving is a Turkish bath. After experiencing one, it is an attraction to see. It goes back for centuries and varies by facility however the commonality is the use of running water to cleanse and relax the body in a room referred to as a harem. While some may find it mildly uncomfortable, I (or my guests and I) found it to be luxuriating and can't wait to return for another.

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