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Cohort 9 students visited Divan Hotel Group today in Istanbul.

The Walt Disney World Parks & Resorts background that many of Stetson University Executive MBA program’s Cohort 9 students have came in handy during today’s visit to Divan Hotel Group.

Selin Karaosmanogn, Divan’s director of marketing and communications, greeted the cohort with a sincere smile and some of Divan’s famous pastries. She explained that in 1980, Turkey began to see the increase in tourism because of its unique history, long coastline, and fantastic weather and food. Today, 15% of Turkey’s GDP is tourism.

Divan Hotels, part of Koc Holding (which students visited yesterday) since 2000, set up its first Turkey hotel in Istanbul. The founder couldn’t find an adequate place to stay when in town for business and hence the Divan Hotel Group emerged. Now, with three hotels in Turkey, and with expected growth to 25 hotels in this region before 2016, Divan has a bright future in store. Divan Hotels in Istanbul is known for its “Hospitality School,” its sincere service and its relationship with Koc Holding.

According to Karaosmanogn, the hospitality market is not saturated in Istanbul. She said she believes there will continue to be outstanding growth. In addition to keeping its five-star brands, it will launch Divan Express in fall 2012. The Express version of its hotels will be at a lower price point and accommodate business travelers looking for a safe, friendly, high-quality place to stay that doesn’t have a spa or full restaurant. In addition, Divan Hotels launched its first international hotel in Northern Iraq two months ago. The company will continue to open hotels and/or greet guests at their various locations to cater to the Middle East market based on the unrest in the area.

Karaosmanogn said Divan forecasts growth using various indicators, and it relies on its partners, such as Turkish Airlines and local Preferred Hotel Associations, to drive both tourist and business clients.

Cohort 9 student Joe Chatterjee asked Karaosmanogn what challenges Divan Hotel Group faces in the future. Karaosmanogn answered that rolling out Divan Express while expanding and maintaining Divan’s brand and culture, communicating clearly to the public and keeping investors happy at the same time will be a major challenge. Another challenge is finding just the right partner that will build the hotels in a preferred location with a shared vision. “Those are not always easy to find!” said Karaosmanogn. She said Divan hopes to expand to New York and Prague, for example. She added that social media will be a challenge for Divan Hotel Group as it expands on a more regional and national level with more importance on the messaging that has an international approach.

Students gathered at the end of the presentation for Divan Hotel Group's renowned pastries.

Edwin Alvarado, a Cohort 9 student who is also a guest services manager at Walt Disney World Parks & Resorts, was curious about Divan’s peak periods. Karaosmanogn said that in Istanbul, peak times are mid-March through June with a slow period in the winter months, at which time Divan offers extended-stay incentives.

Cohort 9 student Brian Smith, who works for Disney Vacation Club, asked about Divan’s occupancy. Karaosmanogn shared that Divan has an average of 80% occupancy with a three- to four-night stay in Istanbul, and that it’s made up of 50% tourists and 50% business people.

Cohort 9 student Toshimasa Matsumura, who works at Disney’s Shades of Green, was interested in Divan’s yield management.

Karaosmanogn shared that a new area for Istanbul is “health tourism,” or travelers who come and stay while having medical procedures done at a much reduced cost, such as Lasik’s or plastic surgery. This is a growing trend among Divan’s wealthy clients.

The Spice Market was the next stop for students, for lunch and souvenir shopping.

“After the business visit, we had a wonderful tour,” said Wendy Lowe, program coordinator for the Executive MBA program. “We ended up in the pastry shop where we enjoyed various samples and even made some purchases for our family and friends back home.

”We look forward to monitoring Divan Hotel Groups expansion on the coming months and years.”

Students later went to the Spice Market for lunch, and several bought souvenirs such as spices that are unique to the region. They then went to the Grand Bazaar for additional shopping for scarves, leather, silver and other valuables. After the shopping excursion, some went to the Turkish Dance Show, others went to the Turkish Baths, and some enjoyed a night on the town for free exploration on their last evening in Istanbul.

“Tomorrow, we head to Mercedes Benz and then to Budapest!” said Lowe.

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