How would you define the concept of Divan Erbil?
Divan is known in Turkey as a good hotel brand. We at Divan Erbil are striving to be a five-star international business hotel. Business means catering to what the business traveler wants. We have meeting rooms, 2 ballrooms, break-out rooms, several bars, choices of restaurants, fitness center, indoor pool and as of next summer a large outdoor pool area and big guest rooms. We have an average of 40 square meters per room, and 30% of our rooms are suites, some have kitchens so they are like serviced apartments. I define our hotel as very much dedicated and geared to the international business traveler, with a twist on Turkish hospitality, Kurdish mentality, and European hotel management background.

What projects do you have planned in the short term?
We recently opened a new spa with a large fitness center, a Turkish bath, a steam bath, a sauna, and a 20-meters long indoor swimming pool. It is indeed very luxurious. We have opened a ballroom for 900 people and added four more meeting rooms, for a total of twelve meeting rooms in brand new conditions. We also have a new steak house. We are going to redo our 21st floor Asian restaurant (sushi and noodles) with terraces overlooking the city. There will also be a bar with a huge terrace on one side of the 23rd floor, and we will have Erbil’s highest shisha lounge on the other side. It will be enclosed by glass in winter with heaters. We will also be building an outdoor swimming pool, which we are lacking at the moment.

Are you planning to build a new business center?
We have two business centers. Trends are moving away from business centers, though, because everyone has their own business center¬ in their laptops or I-phones. Our internet connection is very strong. We have built a brand new building next to the hotel that will be rented out as offices for international companies on a long-term basis. Office space being connected to the hotel has a lot of advantages. Here, you can do lunch, have coffee, invite guests, and even stay in the hotel.

What is your staffing policy?
We tell people that this is a nice, safe place to work with more freedom compared to other destinations that have more restrictions. We are paying higher salaries than in the Gulf to overcome the perceptions that come with being in Iraq. I have been speaking to the Ministry of Education about introducing a hotel training program for local people. There would be a one-year program and a two-year program. After training for one month in every department and getting to understand the concept behind the hotel in the one-year program, there would be a guaranteed job with us as a normal employee – a waiter, receptionist, or a housekeeper. In the two-year program, they would be trained two or three months in every department, in addition to training in accounting and sales. After the successful completion of those two years, we would guarantee them a supervisor job.

What challenges do you see?
Now the challenge is definitely what is happening in Iraq. We are running at around 50% occupancy during the week instead of 90%. The other challenge is training staff. We have local staff applying, but they are not trained in the hotel business, so they apply to become a driver, a bellboy, or to work in security. These are all jobs where it is not necessary for you to have hotel experience. Some applicants cannot speak English, which is a big issue. All of these are minor issues compared to the challenges that the rest of Iraq is now facing.