Istanbul and the art of booking a hotel online: Nothing Zen!

I am starting this post at the end of 2006 because a journalist of the Guardian has asked me to give some insight comments about booking your travel via Internet. Well, what better answers to such question than to describe what you do on the Internet to get some answers while it is for real?

Once a year, in September, we use to travel with a very heterogeneous group of Baby Boomer friends to a city to experience Modern Art. The name of the loosely organized association is aptly chosen “Art en Route”. It even has its own logo. Art en Route has its own Small-Museum-of- Modern-Art-director who gives the group lessons in Modern Art and prepares briefs about places to visit and artists to see and acts as the Art guide in the city. He is very well humored and has to be, because the group often gives its cynical comments about the “Artsy” character of what is displayed. We (he and Art en Route members) learn a lot!

Earlier trips were to Barcelona, Berlin, Paris, and Venice. The Berlin and Venice trips I attended, The rest I had to forgo, as I had to look after our own hotel guests.

In 2007 we are to visit Istanbul for the Istanbul Art Biennale.

The frequent travelers of Art en Route and I -as the Hotelier and Internet geek- of Art en Route are asked for Hotel suggestions. After I had suggested Propeller Island City Lodge for our September 2006 trip to Berlin, I am afraid some members of the group will vote against any of my suggestions.

However, I should mention that I suggested this Hotel only after my DW called me up in the middle of the night when the trip went to Barcelona in a prior year (2004): She had just checked into the group’s hotel of choice and very much to her dissatisfaction. The room had only one window that looked out on a blind wall of an in-house light shaft and the pipes of the hotel kitchen and various air conditioners were blowing their air and stink with a lot of noise into the shaft. She demanded me to look for another hotel on the Internet immediately. Also the hotel was very shabby and located in the center of the ”Quartier Des Madames”. Hence she wanted to move out and check in into another hotel immediately. Apart from the fact that then it took even more effort to find a suitable hotel, I didn’t succeed to find any other hotel room at all for her, as Barcelona was fully booked, at least according to the consolidators and very few hotels had their availability accessible through their own sites in those days. Therefor I am always hesitant to book last minute, whatever the deal may be. Unfortunately on the other hand my DW and I are usually forced to book last minute by our work.

Internet is more about randomly than scientifically approaching such questions. Therefor I describe my rather random (in earlier years the buzz word would be fuzzy) approach while avoiding the Five Star Alliances of this world.

  • My first inclination is to go to the site of Bookings, already because, originally, it was set up by a couple of Dutchman and because it is a fast loading site and has a lot of useful content (good maps!) and added somewhere in 2005 or 2006 user generated hotel reviews to it. It comes up with 102 hotels in Istanbul….now where to start…..leave it for the moment. By the way: They changed their name into Booking.
  • Mr and Mrs Smith? I red somewhere (yes it was in The Guardian) that the couple behind the guides and the site got married very luxuriously. They have only the Sofa Hotel. I discussed this already with the lady in charge of booking for Art en Route, but it is probably a bit to far away from the city center.
  • Relais et Chateaux? Has no Istanbul Hotel presence.
  • Luxury Culture? No Istanbul Hotels.
  • The Kiwi collection comes up with the first useful hit that draws my attention: Sumahan on the Water on the board of the Bosporus, about half an hour from the city center by water taxi. I would love to stay at this place as I know where it is and know (because once I made a trip on board of the US Ambassador’s motor launch “Hiawatha” over the Bosporus) how beautiful the scenery is there and how you can be sensationally surprised if a Russian Mega Crude carrier comes along when you potter on the Bosporus in a relatively small motor boat. It is even more sensational than when from Rotterdam Centrum you want to visit Hotel New York in Rotterdam. The river Maas is very busy there with a lot of Big Barge traffic up and down the River.
    A drawback of the Kiwi Collection is that it lists few hotels and gives Istanbul and Marmara as location result: Marmara is approximately 100 miles apart from Istanbul, i am not searching for Marmara.
  • Then I look at Tripadvisor phew, 344 hotels…Again: Where to start…?
  • Once I got the tip for Travel Intelligence from a Dutch guy who takes 2 to 25 Euro cents from a respectable number of Chinese travelers pouring over Europe whereby he acts as an intermediary for booking them cheap hotel rooms. Probably he is wiser than I am. Hey! They revamped the Travel Intelligence site: Not so much faster loading, but definitely a better look and feel and a map! They also mention the Sumahan. It is probably a bit too expensive for the group. It is located in an old Raki distillery. That is interesting.
  • I turn to Expedia.com and see that a couple of hotels offer up to 25% early booking savings and other hotels have probably not set their availability correctly.
  • I am definitely avoiding the SPG (Starwood Preferred Guest) booking site as I recently found out that before you know how, you make a decently priced reservation but forfeit your up front payment if you want to change your date of booking or just made a simply made error in the booking.

A couple of hours went by. Now, like another Blogger, Heather Green at BusinessWeek put it eloquently recently: I should take a walk around the block to let my brain do something else than troll: surf and read and read without my brain taking anything in….on the other hand: I use to surf as an alternative way to walking around the block thinking about issues that come up in my work…

My first conclusion is: Look at various dedicated hotel sites, be it luxury, design, romance or whatever you have in mind and then check back with the bigger sites as Booking, Expedia and the like.

I look further:

My second conclusion is: First I should have called upon a friend of mine who is a big shot in business, has lived several years in Istanbul not so long ago and still frequently travels there….

Will be be continued somewhere in February, when we have Art en Route’s opening of the season session.

In the meantime I would appreciate suggestions from readers.

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