Kurdistan Region of Iraq: Interview with Mr Tarkan Aksoy

Mr Tarkan Aksoy

General Manager (Divan Erbil)

Mr Tarkan Aksoy

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq has been facing security challenges in the last two years. However, the regional government has shown strength ensuring stability in the region and Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani has expressed that Kurdistan has embarked on a new era, the post-ISIS era. What is the current situation in the region?

Since I became General Manager of the Divan Erbil the 1st of February 2017, I have not faced a single security issue; it is a very safe environment. I understand the regards of the people on safety, as before I came to Erbil I was also concerned.  Unfortunately, the general perception of northern Iraq among the people abroad is not accurate. The colleague that used to hold my position before I arrived assured me that security wise there was nothing to be worried about, and he was totally right.

The good old days of 2013, when hotels were built all around the Divan and the business community was carrying out new projects, came to an end and the tourism industry has slowed down in the last two years. However, at this very moment we are expecting business to improve in a positive way.

Tourism has always been a main contributor to the Kurdish economy. According to the official Investment Agency, this industry represents around 20% of the region’s GDP. What are the main challenges in the tourism field for the Kurdistan Region of Iraq?

The biggest challenge is to change the negative impression that the people have about the Region because of the war in other areas of Iraq, even though the reality in the Kurdistan Region is totally different. They are concerned about security issues that are not real.
In order to recover the business growth and to bring back enterprises and hotels, it is necessary to show that such problems do not exist in this area, and it will be a matter of time that people feel confortable and secure again when coming to Kurdistan.

Divan Erbil hotel is a luxury resort that was awarded with the Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence in 2015. What makes it a unique hotel?

The service standards and the employees make this place unique. There are many five stars hotels in Erbil, but our people make the difference. At Divan, guests will find many different nationalities and the best staff from all around the world. Our managers are committed to provide the best service that characterizes the Divan brand. The award is recognition and an appreciation of that effort.

Erbil has a wide offer in the hospitality industry with well-established brands in the city. What makes you different from your competitors?

At Divan Erbil everything is about the guest experience. Our guests feel the value of the services that we offer; because we use every opportunity to create special moments. The fact that we have a faithful clientele shows that we are working in the right direction and we are not just a hotel, but a home for our guests. We seek every opportunity to create unique moments for our guests.
In addition, many of our guests have their businesses at Divan, which means that we know exactly their needs and preferences and we make them feel at home. Actually, there are companies that have established their premises here for the long term.

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq is a popular destination among Middle-Eastern countries and it has a well-developed business tourism industry. What is the profile of your guests?

We rarely host tourists or families traveling to the Kurdistan Region for leisure.
99% of our guests are businessman coming from all over the world; the United States, Europe, Middle-East and of course Turkey, as Divan is a Turkish company.

In the last year most of the foreign companies have left the Region especially those related to the oil industry. Has your business been affected by this situation?

The problem of large companies leaving the Region slightly affected us. However, I am optimistic and hopefully the economic activity will be back after Ramadan. Even if we do not reach the three years ago levels, I am convinced that we will slowly recover the business dynamics.
In addition to the come back of people who already have businesses here, Erbil is a big city with over a million inhabitants and we are making our food and beverage services attractive for them. Divan is the perfect place for those living in the city or travellers hosted somewhere else to have a great time with the best service in a very special environment.  

You have an extensive career in the hospitality industry, both, in the Kurdistan Region and Turkey. After holding high responsibility position in resorts such as Four Seasons, Maxx Royal Hotels and Canyon Ranch, you became GM at Divan Erbil. What do you feel most proud of?

One of the great experiences of my career was as director of rooms. My manager back at that time offered me the possibility to switch positions with a colleague holding the director of food and beverage. This was a perfect opportunity to see the other side of the business and develop expertise in F&B, which is complex and a wide operation.

I became General Manger at Divan Erbil on February 1st 2017, and I feel very proud of being here. It is a great brand, not only in Erbil but also at an international level, especially in Turkey, where it is one of the most popular chains with hotels, residences, restaurants, patisseries and pubs. It is a real honour to work for Divan and contribute to the success of a company with more than sixty years of history.

Harvard Business Review Readers include the most influential business leaders and decision makers in the world. What is the final message that you would like to transmit to our readers?

It would be a pleasure to host your readers and they can be sure that we will do our outmost to make them feel at home.