Meet the Owners: Tolga Akarcalı of Taşkonaklar Rocky Palace, Cappadocia, Turkey

Nathalie Salas Nathalie Salas Uploaded

Cappadocia has been making headlines in recent years.  Situated in Central Anatolia, Turkey, the UNESCO world heritage protected site has become renowned for its fairy-tale chimney landscape and underground cave cities, dating back to the fourth century.  The site, in which Taşkonaklar Rocky Palace now stands, was originally going to be used as a private holiday home for the Akarcalı family. However, Tolga Akarcali, a former real estate executive and his father, the former Turkish minister of tourism, saw the potential in developing a boutique hotel that would complement the touristic offering of Cappadocia and provide a distinctive appeal for travellers looking for an out-of-the-ordinary travel experience.

Taşkonaklar opened in 2006 after a two-year renovation period costing €1.5 million. Starting with just seven rooms, the hotel gradually evolved and expanded to 20 rooms, many of which were constructed within pre-existing original cave dwellings, inhabited for hundreds of years. Tolga has been managing the operations of the hotel, and its domestic and international marketing strategy since its opening seven years ago.

When we met back in June of 2012, you stated that you were proud to be amateurs in the hotel industry. However, after seven years since opening, you must feel more experienced as a hotelier?
The amateur spirit is still there which keeps us evolving, to seek for better ways in everything we do. This experience has enabled us to understand our guests and the areas where we need to improve.  Now after seven years, we can definitively say we take proactive approach to meeting our guests' needs and expectations.  To give an example, we have introduced new services including a restaurant in the hotel where we cook on demand.  We shop for our guests daily to make sure everything is fresh and locally sourced. In addition, we have started to organically farm our own vegetables and rear chickens to produce fresh eggs.

We are also looking to expand the guest experience of Turkish culture by providing pottery lessons and stone craftsmanship workshops at the hotel; local traditions that span over centuries.

Ongoing training for our staff is also very important for even a small hotel like ours. We give a huge importance to employing locals and then helping them with their personal development and education.

Do you think the Turkish government is providing sufficient investment and tools to help the hospitality trade in promoting Cappadocia as a destination?  What initiatives are you undertaking to promote awareness of Taşkonaklar?
As Cappadocia is such a unique destination, its importance to Turkish tourism has been increasing steadily. The government has been showcasing Cappadocia in its tourism marketing campaigns, and we are certainly seeing the results through increased arrivals. On the other hand, there is a balancing act to preserve and sustain the valuable heritage of the region.

Our initiatives to promote Cappadocia, as well as the hotel, are fairly limited due to our size. Our efforts are mostly focused on internet marketing and from time to time, exhibiting at international tourism fairs. We have seen positive results coming out of our marketing efforts, with the quality and service now being recognised.  We also recently became a recommended hotel by Condé Nast Johansens.

Despite the current economic downturn, Turkey's tourism sector is still growing and is a vital  aspect of its economy. What is your strategy for 2013 to take advantage of this growth?
We know that the most important element in a boutique hotel like ours is the human interaction and the quality that comes with it. That's why we are investing in the on-going development of our employees. Our rooms are quality-controlled and are constantly maintained to a high standard. In late 2012, we have added our Royal Suite, featuring an antique fireplace, a large bathroom with Molton Brown products, and most importantly a large three-storey private terrace equipped with a heated Jacuzzi.

With Cappadocia listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, what efforts are you undertaking to position Taşkonaklar as a hotel that practices the principles of sustainability and eco-tourism?
Our mission since inception was to be a hotel that demonstrated and promoted sustainable principles and its benefits to eco-tourism. During our renovation works, we sourced all the materials locally in order to minimise our carbon footprint. This has also helped us in delivering a hotel that was true and authentic to local culture and heritage of Cappadocia.

Our energy is produced naturally through solar panels. We also do all of the laundry in-house, as we are conscious of the chemicals that are used by laundering services suppliers. Moreover, when possible, we always dry them in the fresh air, which allows us to cut-down on electricity costs and to provide our guests a more natural and fresher feeling when sleeping in their beds.

Most importantly, we are the first Turkish hotel to be a member of The International Eco-Tourism Society, a non-profit association committed to promoting responsible tourism practices that benefit conservation and communities.

Nathalie Salas is a writer for Perfect Boutique Hotel, a website dedicated to readers who have a passion for boutique and lifestyle hotels. She is a also a freelance consultant specialising in hospitality and tourism, helping small businesses improve their marketing and branding on an international level. Nathalie is British and lives in Asolo, Italy.

Follow her on Twitter: @perfectboutique


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