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Divan Palmira Hotel in Bodrum, Turkey: The End of an Era?

Bodrum, Turkey and Mykonos, Greece

This 4th of July marked my sixth consecutive visit to the Divan Palmira Hotel in Bodrum, Turkey. My visit this year prompted me to write this review. The Divan Palmira Hotel is located in the Golturkbuku region of Bodrum. Two recent cover stories published last year in The New York Times Travel Section called this Aegien Sea summer destination The St. Tropez of Turkey.

For those readers who would like to know more about Bodrum, especially the village of Golturkbuku, there is plenty of well written reading material (including these two 2006 New York Times travel write-ups). In this review, I will try to stay focused specifically on my most recent trip, the hotel, the changes which took place at this hotel this year and the highlights of my trip.

The New York Times - Jan / 2006
The New York Times - Aug / 2006

Our Arrival on Saturday, June 30, 2007
When I emailed the hotel before my arrival to Turkbuku, (the formal name of this town is Golturkbuku) I felt that I was communicating with a brand new crew at the front desk. We found out, only upon our arrival, that the entire hotel staff was replaced with a young and inexperienced crew (with an exception for two long term waiters, Onur and Suat, remaining as the only survivors of the glory days).

When we walked in the hotel after a 45 minute cab ride from the airport, (which cost us 85 YTL -if you don't speak Turkish, the airport cab drivers will charge you 85 Euros instead, roughly twice as much) we did not see a single familiar face at the front desk. One of the young, polite and smiley reception desk staff members tried very hard to process our American Express on half a dozen or so different credit card machines laying on his desk, and each time when the card did not go through, asked us what our pass code was. The night before in Istanbul on our way to Bodrum, we stayed at the The Ritz Carlton Istanbul, and we did not have to wrestle through credit card processing machines during our check in. Instead, we were greeted with drinks at the lobby restaurant as they completed our paperwork, and a professional young lady brought our room keys to us at the restaurant we were relaxing at. We had the same very impressive five-star check-in experience at the Ciragan Palace Hotel during our last night stay in Turkey.


Cats in Turkbuku

To be fair, I will not compare our first impressions this year at the Divan Palmira Bodrum with Hotel De Paris in Monte Carlo, Kempinski Ciragan Palace Hotel in Istanbul, or even The Ritz Carlton Istanbul, but I think a fair comparison and expectation would be a similar boutique hotel such as Kivotos Hotel in Mykonos, Greece which we visited last September.

Both hotels, Divan Palmira in Bodrum, Turkey and Kivotos Hotel in the Greek Island of Mykonos are listed among the leading five-star boutique hotels in the world. Any five-star hotel needs to offer a five-star check-in experience, greeted by an experienced five-star hotel staff, dressed professinally (at least better than a cheap cruise ship staff). I am sure everyone in the hospitality business knows what the important details and expectations from a five-star rated hotel are.


Kivotos Hotel in the Greek Island of Mykonos

For the first time in my last 6 visits, I was immediately disappointed at Divan Palmira Hotel upon our arrival.

I am not sure if the Turks appreciate an objective review and a constructive criticism, but I am pretty confident that they would not like to be compared to their Greek cousins, especially if they are reminded that they have plenty of catching up to do in very similar areas. During our visit to the Kivotos Hotel last year (both hotels are similar in size with roughly 60-65 guest rooms) we were greeted by the hotel's owner, his wife and their son (who is studying business administration in Paris). Since our stay at their hotel, we regularly received personal emails and greetings from the family -not computer generated tacky sales spam- as well as email letters from the hotel staff (like my friend Maria, the waitress at the pool area, and Venessa who worked at the reception desk). We also received a beautiful Christmas gift from the family, a glass frame artwork, hand made in Mykonos with the hotel's logo hand carved by a local artist. Vanessa and her mom opened up their own boutique hotel last winter at a popular ski resort in Thessaloniki, Greece. They all kept us posted as if we wre their own family members.


Water Toys of Divan Palmira Hotel in Turkbuku, Bodrum

I can summarize the main difference between these two hotels, as both of them pretty much reflect their national characteristics (when it comes to getting hospitality business). The Turks never learned, or even showed the slightest passion, or interest, to compete in tourist related industries on a global stage- as compared to their Greek cousins who proved and improved themselves year after year to be one of the world leaders in this industry. I used to stay in a different five star boutique Bodrum Hotel, "The Marmara Bodrum " overlooking the Bodrum Castle, before discovering "Divan Palmira" in Turkbuku. I changed hotels after a pair of reading glasses were taken from our room by hotel staff, and the hotel management suggested that we might have forgotten them in a cab. We then decided to move on to a different Bodrum hotel permanently, never looking back.

Our First Day Breakfast
Divan hotels are owned and operated by Koc Holding, Turkish energy-to-banking conglomorate with 2006 consolidated annual revenues exceeding 34,5 billion USD. Mr. Rahmi Koc, honorary chairman of this family business was invited to the first international Superyacht Conference & Expo as one of the keynote speakers two years ago, but we were informed that his schedule did not permit him to attend the conference at that time. We did run into Mr. Rahmi Koc in several occassions dining in Bodrum area.

It was actually during our first day's morning breakfast that I realized that the entire hotel staff was different than the crew we were used to seeing over the years- and I mean everyone was a new face. The brand new team included the hotel manager, Murat Bey, and his assistant manager lady (I don't recall her name). These were the two who took over the disaster.

I also realized on our first day morning that I did not have my morning papers waiting for me on the the door for the first time in four years. I walked over to the small grocery store next to the hotel and bought two Turkish morning papers, Hurriyet and Sabah.

However, I must say that the breakfast service at Divan Palmira Hotel remained personal and well managed. I have absolutely nothing to criticize there.

Lunch and Dinner Service, Local Celebrities and Star Struck Wait Staff
I can't say the same for the lunch and dinner service. The hotel's restaurant appears to have no management at all. We were never greeted as we walked in for lunch or dinner (with the exception of the last night's dinner where almost the entire hotel staff paraded through our table one by one after the word let out that we were in the middle of writing this review). I expected this exaggerated attention during our entire stay.

We found out that hotel's long time restaurant manager, the heavy set gentleman, recently had a motorcycle accident and remains in bed. We wish him a speedy recovery. I am not sure though if he would still be employed if he wasn't hospitalized, based on what we observed at this hotel this year. By the way, I never had a single exchange of words with the previous restuarant manager during the past four years. I had seen him at work and did not know the man; I observed that he just did his job and ran that restaurant like clock work while he was there.

The inexperienced and completely unqualified new wait staff of Divan Palmira Hotel was often star struck and distracted by local Turkish celebtrities dining at the restaurant. Since we did not know any of these local celebrities, we developed a habit of following daily Turkish newspapers and the evening television entertainment programs to find out who our neighbors were. The night when a gray haired, balding, man in his seventies, and his entourage arrived, the entire dinner service stopped for everryone else. The one qualified waiter present at the hotel, Suat, was assigned to this man's table. Later, we found out that this man was the owner of the Turkish soccer team, Fenerbahce. After dinner that night we went to the opening gala of a night club called Club 63. What we found was that the star of the gala, Ibrahim Tatlises, was singing- but he was star-struck by the same, very popular, old man that ruined the dinner service at our hotel. The singer was practically on his lap!

The World's Best Chocolate Souffle No More
There were three restaurants in the world which served the best chocolate souffle or hot chocolate cake: Tavern on the Green in New York City, Hotel De Paris in Monte Carlo, and Divan Palmira Hotel in Bodtum, Turkey. After changing ownership following 9/11, Tavern on the Green now has a new pastry chef who dropped chocolate souffle from their desert menu. This week we found out that after Joep Bakx, the Dutch CEO of the Turkish Divan Hotel Chain, executed the entire staff in this hotel, he also made sure that the chef who was the hero behind Divan Palmira's hot chocolate cake was also among the fired.

Our Other Experiences
Twice during our stay I happened to be at Divan Palmira's reception desk. Once, to make reservations for a concert, and the second time to change our plane tickets. The first time we observed an outraged hotel guest complaining to a front desk employee that he had changed his room six times since his arrival earlier that day and still was not satisfied with his accomodations for one reason or another. The second time, we witnessed a foreign guest and his wife screaming for help to get them out of this f**ng hotel immediately.

The first four days of our stay our towels were never replaced, and basic necessaties, such as the toilet paper in the bathroom, were never replanished. I had to make a morning routine of finding the cleaning crew and their supply cart, and helping myself to thier toliet paper.

The television set in our room (Room 125) was broken and never fixed or replaced during our entire stay. If we watched a total of five minuetes on our of TV we looked at the black screen with a white line in the middle. For a last effort I left a message during our check-out that they should replace the TV set for the next guests in that room.

For the first five days we could never find a waiter in the pool area to order something cold to drink. We had to make a call to the hotel manager (at which time a full-time waiter was assigned to follow us the rest of the day).

Daily New Chinese Fortune Cookies Left on Our Beds
We never received fresh towels, but our afternoon naps were promptly interrupted by a boy who wanted to place the daily fortune cookie paper signs on our bed. One of these read "please be nice" and the message we got from the one photographed above was "We know you are probably wealthy (our room cost us $650 per day plus expenses so it does not take a genius to conclude that) but you are most likely an asshole too."

Don't Use the Hotel's Barber!
While I was looking for the hotel gym one day, I got lost and ended up at the barber who gave me a mohawk haircut. Even worse, he cut half of my mustache off. I flew back home with half a mustache, hoping that the other half would catch up soon.

Joep Bakx: How Competent Is The New Dutch CEO of Turkish Divan Hotel Chain?
It didn't take us long to conclude that this would be our last stay at Divan Palmira in Turkbuku, Bodrum. From what we gathered after a brief Google search,  the new CEO has a growth plan including building new hotels in cities like Eskisehir and Gaziantep. If this man can not compete in top markets such as Bodrum, what can you expect him to accomplish in secondary cities where his hotels will most likely operate at under 10- 20% capacity? If what we experienced this week in his Bodrum hotel is an indication, anyone who lived through a similar experience would easily question his competency.

My advice to Mr. Rahmi Koc is to take the hotel keys from this man's hands and ship him back to Netherlands, before he creates more damage.

Bodrum 2007: Other Impressions of The Year
Any developing country has its growing pains, which include goverment corruption in all levels and unique local problems that need to be solved. Turkey has its problems too. Before the end of this month, the country will have its next general elections. This is an event of historical dimensions. The current majority goverment with Islamic roots has been irritating the generals for quite some time now. Turkey, a poweful and a big democratic country with the largest army among any of the U.S. ally countries, was ruled under the protective wings of the Sultan for hundreds of years. The young "oriental" Turkish democracy still needs a little hand holding by the good generals in Ankara for the sake of not waking up to an "Islamic Republic of Turkey" overnight.


The little remaining forest land in Bodrum ignited and burned by criminals as the "high society" vacationers in Turkbuku watched the flames as if it were the 4th of July celebration fireworks

Two of the inherent problems of Turkey are "corruption" and "traffic." We observed both issues during our stay. The laws in the country were written in a  way that states that if forest land burns down, public decision makers are allowed to re-zone this land as property qualified for housing development. So every summer local goverments, thiefs, criminals and the real estate developers come together for a big luau, and burn the forests of the country. They do this right in time for the upcoming winter construction season. Forest burning dates this year coincided with our stay in Bodrum.

The day we arrived in Bodrum, three kids lost their lives in a traffic accident at an intersection close to our hotel. One week after this accident, on our way back to the airport, we saw the prompt action taken by the local government. A permanent ambulance embedded in the intersection was stationed to take the next accident victims (or their remains) to the hospital (or the morgue) when the next accident occured. The 28 year-old man who was killed in this accident was an up and coming music star who recently won the Turkish version of the "American Idol" contest.

The accident that the hotel's previous manager was involved in landed him in the hospital and killed four passanger's of the other car.

The night we went to the Ibo Concert at Club 63, we witnessed a fresh accident, a car dangling at the edge of a cliff, a scene which is impossible to recreate in any James Bond movie. The next morning we learned that our 16 year-old cab driver, who drove us to the club, already totaled two cars this summer, one on a head-on crash, and the other by driving through a house at a sharp turn.

I also realized that morning, with my new haircut, that I looked just like this kid driver. All I needed was to add some shiney hair glue and form a permanent tornado twist! This exciting discovery did not help me with the missing left part of my freshly trimmed mustache though.

With all seriousness, I'm not expecting many congratulation emails for this blog entry. YV&C was crticized by many in the superyacht industry when we ran this story a few years ago too. There is an old Turkish saying, "dost aci soyler" so be it.

-- F.K.

More Stories By Fuat Kircaali

Fuat Kircaali is the founder and chairman of SYS-CON Media, Cloud Expo, Inc. and Ulitzer, Inc.

Kircaali came to the United States from Zurich University, Switzerland in 1984 while studying for his PhD, to design computer systems for SH-2G submarine hunter helicopters for the U.S. Navy. He later worked at IBM's IS&CG Headquarters as a market research analyst under Mike Armstrong's leadership, an IBM executive who later ran IBM Europe and AT&T; and Fuat was the Director of Information Systems for UWCC, reporting to CEO Steve Silk (later Hebrew National CEO), one of the top marketing geniuses of the past two decades.

Kircaali founded SYS-CON Media in 1994, a privately held tech media company with sales exceeding $100 million. SYS-CON Media was listed twice by Inc 500 and Deloitte and Touche as one of the fastest-growing companies in North America. Kircaali launched Ulitzer, Inc., a revolutionary "new media" start-up in mid 2009.

Fuat completed Bogazici University Business Administration program in 1982 with a Bachelor's Degree. He was one of 50 students accepted to the program out of over 1 million high school graduates that year.

http://twitter.com/fuatkircaali

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