Nearly 15 years after its launch, Istanbul.com has grown to command one of the largest Web audiences among Turkish Web sites and is planning to continue its work promoting the city.
People all over the world are curious about what’s going on in a city where a cabbie’s radio plays a gypsy tune one minute and a hip-hop song the next and where a power plant has become a university campus full of performance areas and entertainment. When the curious search for Istanbul online, Istanbul.com is one of the first pages to come up.
The Web domain carrying the city’s name was launched in 1995 in English and added a Turkish version at the end of 1998. The chairwoman of the agency that manages Istanbul.com, Canan Erdoğan, said it was first created in English because the project started that way, but that the rising popularity of the Web site created demand for a Turkish portal as well.
The Web site covers transportation, entertainment listings and venues, restaurants, shopping, movie theaters, tours, business life, accommodations, health, important telephone numbers, weather and news about the city.
According to Erdoğan, Turkish and foreign users have different demands from and interest in the site. Foreign visitors want to research and learn more about the city, while Turkish people want constant updates about what’s going on there. So the Turkish version of the site is often updated with the latest developments and activities, both during the week and on the weekends.
"The only thing we don’t cover are the political developments in the city," Erdoğan said. The Web site has 318,000 Turkish and more than 100,000 foreign members and gets over 10 million hits per day Ğ more than most of the daily newspapers’ Web sites.
Newsletters about Istanbul
Erdoğan said the site is sending out twice-weekly newsletters to members about activities in Istanbul, adding that those who don’t reply to their e-mails after a period of time are removed from the list. "The members, of course, have advantages," Erdoğan said. "We have agreements with various venues, restaurants and bars that give special discounts and gifts to our members. For example, they sometimes receive free brunches or other meals."
According to Erdoğan, Istanbul.com plays an important role in promoting Istanbul, especially as the time approaches for the city to be the 2010 European Capital of Culture. "The foreigners who live in Istanbul are mostly very social people; they want to know what’s cooking in the city," Erdoğan said. "The most popular parts of Istanbul.com are the events and the maps." The "Istanbul guide" section of the site provides comprehensive information about event venues. If the events and activities taking place in the city are not promoted in foreign countries and to the public, Erdoğan says, they will not get the attention that they deserve.
Istanbul.com is supported by the Turkish Hotel Association, or TUROB, the Istanbul Convention & Visitors Bureau, or ICVB, the Istanbul Conventions & Exhibition Center, or ICEC, the Governorship of Istanbul, the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, the Istanbul City Council, the Tourism Investors’ Organization, or TYD, the Istanbul Foundation for Culture & Arts and Turkish Airlines.
"We have obtained a vast archive about Istanbul," Erdoğan said. "So we are also a reference for many topics about those establishments."
After the Internet firm received many offers to create tourism publications for other companies, the idea of putting together a magazine for Istanbul began to take shape in the minds of the 30-person team. Since 2005, they have been publishing the seasonal magazine "In Istanbul" four times a year, in fall, winter, spring and summer editions that can be found in metropolises around the world and have drawn great interest, especially from people from Denmark and the United States. "We publish 50,000 copies each time," Erdoğan said, adding, "Even after they read it, people don’t throw it away, because the quality is high and the topics covered never get old."
Unique photos of the city
The team’s latest published work is a photograph album called "Past Present Istanbul" consisting of stunning photos of the city, taken in both its touristy and traditional corners. Istanbul.com also made an agreement with Google’s Turkish office for people to have e-mail addresses ending with @istanbul.com. "The account details are the same as with Gmail accounts, but we wanted people to have a special account that carries the name of the city of Istanbul," Erdoğan said. By the year 2010, she added, the site aims to reach 1 million e-mail users.
As Istanbul.com keeps coming up with new projects, the technology sector’s keen buyers have taken notice. "We were offered millions of dollars to sell the company, yet we did not, because we work too hard to promote Istanbul and we will continue working," Erdoğan said. The companies that offered the biggest amounts of money were from Greece and the United States. Although Erdoğan and her team do not want to sell Istanbul.com, she said, they might be open to considering a partnership.