When Germans have had enough of the cold and rainy spring weather, they flock in masses to sunny places like Turkey. And nobody understands the business of getting them there better than Vural Öger.
Sun, blue skies and a sandy beach are a German tourist's dream
Come May, when the weather across large stretches of Germany still hasn’t turned into spring, Germans lose their patience with the weather gods. They’re ready for sun and warmth, but it’s often no where to be seen – at least not in their northern climate zone. So they board a plane and head for someplace with 25 to 30 degree weather.
Turkey is one of the more popular destinations for the sun-seeking tourists. Because it’s relatively close to Germany – 3 hours from Berlin to Istanbul – more and more Germans are heading to Europe’s neighbor in Asia. Some 300 flights leave Germany for Turkey every week. One of the largest travel companies involved in chartering these passengers back and forth is Öger Tours.
Ortakoy Mosque on the Bosporus in Istanbul, Turkey
Founded by Vural Öger 32 years ago, Öger Tours is among the top ten of Germany’s travel companies. Every year the Hambur-based company sends nearly a million German tourists abroad, mostly to Turkey, Mr. Öger’s country of birth.
Mr. Öger is largely credited with bringing mass tourism to Turkey. Before he came along with his family-run business of packaged tours and chartered flights, Turkey was only visited by Germans looking for a bit of exotic adventure. Because of the language barrier and the cultural differences, it wasn’t accessible for a broad section of the traveling public. Now it’s a popular vacation spot for Germans of all types, including families.
Thanks to Öger Tours and its extensive network of hotels and travel agents within Turkey, more and more Germans are discovering what Turkey has to offer while traveling in the comfort of a German tour group. From the plane flight to the airport transfer and hotel service, everything is in the hands of the Öger Tours team. Even tours to important historic and cultural sites can be booked with a German-speaking tour guide contracted by Öger Tours.
Knidos Turkey, Tempel of Aphrodite -- one of Turkey's many historic highlights
The company takes care of everything. In fact, it’s entirely feasible to spend two weeks in Turkey without having to have any real contact with the Turkish people. Although this might not necessarily lead to an increased understanding of the country and its culture, some tourists find it a comforting thought.
Quality is very important to Mr. Öger. He wants to ensure that his customers are happy with the service they receive. Too often there’s a bit of uncertainty when it comes to traveling in a country as foreign as Turkey. Many people are concerned that the standards will not be as high as those back home. But all the hotels listed in the Öger Tours catalogue are carefully inspected by Mr. Öger himself. From the sanitary conditions to the quality of food in the restaurant, Mr. Öger checks everything, before attaching his name to it.
Unsatisfied customers give the company a bad reputation, so Mr. Öger invests a lot of time and money trying to please them. More than 40 percent of people booking his tours are repeat customers – a good sign that Mr. Öger has found a recipe for success.
One of the areas Öger Tours focuses on is the environment. German tourists want to see a nicely landscaped hotel complex, but they’re also concerned about protecting the environment. The Öger hotels practice water conservation, for instance, by collecting rain water for watering the garden.
Mr. Öger also donates money for the protection of the environment surrounding the popular tourist sites on the coast. In Marmis on the Aegean Sea and in Northern Cyprus he sponsored the re-forestation of areas destroyed in forest fires. And every year his company donates money for an end of the season coastal clean-up, where millions of tons of garbage are collected from beaches and inland water ways.
Vural Öger, the founder and owner of Öger Tours
Doing business the Turkish way
Mr. Öger has one distinct advantage over his German competition. Having lived in Turkey and speaking the language, he is familiar with the way things work. Because of this, he can frequently clench deals with city officials and hotel managers, other German travel companies can’t even think about. Mr. Öger also has extensive contacts among the country’s politicians, who value his contribution to the Turkish economy.
Of course the travel business is also susceptible to the ups and downs of national and international markets. After September 11, tourism dropped off dramatically, especially in terms of overseas flights and travel to countries in the Arab world. Throughout Germany and Europe, travel companies suffered enormous losses. Öger Tours, however, managed to keep afloat and ride out the difficult times that hit the tourist industry in Turkey.
Mr. Öger attributes his company’s survival to "financial reserves and strong nerves". Speaking to DW-TV, the 60-year old business man said both were needed as an entrepreneur. "There are 12 months in a year, and you can’t make money every month. There will be months when you make a profit and months when you don’t. There will be quiet years and busy years. You have to see things in the long term. And you have to be optimistic. I think I am an optimist."
The Turkish-born businessman with a German passport has received a number of awards for his services to the tourism industry and for his contribution to the improvement of German-Turkish relations.
Last September Mr. Öger was awarded the German medal of service, the highest honor given to German citizens, for his role as an ambassador of cultural exchange between Germany and Turkey. President Johannes Rau, speaking at the ceremony, said Mr. Öger had become a role model for a successful immigrant. He applauded Mr. Öger’s work to promote integration in the fields of sports and culture, and to bring people from both nationalities together in an effort to increase their understanding of one another.
Mr. Öger was also a member of the independent commission on immigration, which proposed a series of changes on immigration policy last July. The commission’s findings were influential in the drafting of a new bill on immigration.
The Turkish-German businessman, however, downplays the ethnic differences between himself and his colleagues. "I’ve experienced neither advantages nor disadvantages from not being German," he told DW-TV. "What I’ve noticed, and it’s not the case everywhere, but I find that it’s not your ethnicity that counts, it’s your education, your social and cultural standing that are more important than your ethnicity."