Okan: We have neglected the Eurasia so much…
We have forgotten the Eurasia.
Kazakhstan is his second homeland. Recently, he has been making investments of 300 million dollars in this country. There is almost nobody who does not know his name in Almaty and Astana. Yes, we are talking about the Chairman of Board of Okan Holding, Bekir Okan, who has made investments of 350 million dollars in Kazakhstan in 15 years. Having investments in sectors, such as construction, tourism and food, in Turkey and Kazakhstan, Bekir Okan is now only intended to invest in education in Turkey. Last Friday, the foundation of the new campus of Okan University was laid next to Formula 1 track. This is an investment of 60 million dollars… Okan Holding, employing 5 thousand people in their 25 companies, has had 200 million dollars turnover last year. Being one of the businessmen having been directed to tourism in Turkey by Turgut Özal, Bekir Okan does not think that the tourism in Turkey is profitable. We talked about many topics ranging from tourism to foreign relations with Okan who says “Who claims to have been earning money in south, they are lying.”
Last week, you have made a suggestion to Atilla Koç, the Minister of Culture and Tourism. Can you explain it to us, please?
We travel the world, our facilities are beautiful. Our personnel are qualified. Yet we sell our beds for so cheap. For example, the cost per bed at our Marco Polo is 35 dollars. Another hotel sells the bed for 15 dollars even though it costs 35 dollars. I suggest this: “Minimum price should be applied at hotels.” Everything has its cost. Can you sell it below its cost? You are selling the values of this country. The one who wishes can sell it above the minimum price. But not below.
Isn’t this suggestion of yours against the free-market principles?
Yes. But Mr. Minister also thinks in this way; there is nothing in my suggestion against the free-market idea. On the other hand, they open certain regions to tourism without solving infrastructural problems. The bays are being opened to tourism. Is it reasonable to open Demre to tourism? They open site areas to tourism. This is not right. Doing this means harming ourselves by our own hands.
You are a tourism professional with 20 years of experience. Will you continue your investments in Marco Polo?
20 years ago, the late 8th President Turgut Özal has forced us to tourism by saying “Companies doing international business should enter tourism”. The facility that we built, Marco Polo, is still a brand. We invented the “all included” system. 2 years ago, we completely renewed Marco Polo. We made an investment of 10 million dollars. We increased its capacity. There are 1,300 beds in total. Actually, we used to have 800 beds. With the investments, we added 500 more beds.
Even though you have entered the tourism 20 years ago, Marco Polo could not become a chain. Why?
Who claims to have been making money in the south, they are lying. We have always experienced crises, one after another. Tourism is easily affected from these crises. I did not continue because I didn’t think tourism profitable.
Tourism is a part of your business. You also have construction services. Have you almost rebuilt Kazakhstan?
We celebrate our 15th year in Kazakhstan. In the beginning of July, we will organize a reception that Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev will attend to. In fact, Mr. Nazarbayev has sent us a celebration message written by his own hands. In his message, he emphasized “Okan Holding has realized 350 million dollars investment in 15 years in Kazakhstan”.
Do you continue your investments in Kazakhstan?
We have recently started 2 huge projects there. One of them is a construction of approximately 500 thousand square meters in Astana. We build shopping malls, offices and luxury residences. We built all of these on our own land. Our company in Almaty Bayterek is building a 5-star hotel, a shopping mall, residences and offices on a 40 decares land. This is an investment of 250 million dollars in total.
It is almost as much as you have invested so far…
Yes. We will complete this investment in two years. Right now, we have started its excavation works. In September, we will start the construction.
We will build and sell the residences. And rent the offices.
How about the hotel?
We build the hotel. Kempinski will operate it. This will be our first cooperation with Kempinski. Our other hotel in Astana is being operated by InterContinental Group.
What is the source of your intimacy with Kazakhstan?
It has become our second homeland. It is a country, of which economy is growing a lot. There is petrol, gas. There are also all metals. Additionally, there is a stable government in Kazakhstan. The principles of free market are in effect. We do not make investments in Turkey anymore.
Why? Are you cross with Turkey?
The real sector in Turkey cannot compete over margins. Energy prices and labor are too expensive. The world also has this model. Americans manufacture in China and sells to the world. We adopt the same model. Turkey is, of course, our own country. The most important issue is the education. That is why we make serious investments in the education through Okan University.
You have close relationships with Central Asia countries. Did Turkey has forgotten Eurasia when it faced towards Europe?
Yes, we have forgotten. Turkey should never forget Eurasia. As long as we are strong in Eurasia, we can enter Europe stronger and faster. We will act as a bridge there.
Do the governments not have a share in this forgetting?
Our Prime Minister, now, attaches importance to Eurasia. In Turkey, the agenda of politicians is occupied with daily matters. They have no strategic plans at all. They do not have something like “We will do this in Eurasia in 5 years or 10 years.” Only the Armed Forces has such a strategic planning.
You don’t seem that you would feel sorry even if we do not join the EU.
No. We need to join the Europe. At least in order to protect its strategic values.
we have forgotten!’
RAHİME BAŞ UÇAR