International hospitality awards usually go to hotels with the most creative design, impeccable service and attention to amenities like ultra-plush bathrobes. But the winner of the latest “hospitality innovation award” from PKF hotelexperts was selected on entirely different criteria.
The German hotel consultants awarded the honor to Divan Hotels’ flagship property in Istanbul in recognition for its offering refuge to protesters fleeing police tear gas.
The hotel is adjacent to Gezi Park’s Taksim Square, the site of protests last May and June. During some of the most tense moments, the Divan Hotel’s management took in people protesting against the government of Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to the chagrin of officials.
Adding insult to injury, the hotel staff rebuffed police forces by asking whether they had a reservation at the hotel, according to Han Le, an American who observed the protests. Unsurprisingly, the police did not, and the staff—at least temporarily—prevented them from entering and arresting protesters camping out inside. The Financial Times reports (paywall) that the decision to take in protesters was initially made by the hotel’s management, but supported by the hotel’s parent company.
The chain of 11 Divan Hotels is owned by Koç Holding, a conglomerate owned by the wealthy Koç family, which says it generates 9% of Turkey’s GDP. The hotel’s parent company’s holdings also include Turkey’s only refinery and some joint ventures with Ford and Fiat.
The government has singled out Koç Holding, engaging in a “witch hunt” to pass off blame for the country’s struggling economy, according to an anonymous investment banker cited in Der Spiegel. In June, Erdoğan accused the hotel of “harbor[ing] criminals.” Then, in July, tax investigators raided 77 offices of Koç Holding’s energy subsidiaries. The company was later named in a lawsuit alleging that it was part of a 1997 coup. In late September, it lost a government contract to build six warships.
While the Koç family may the government’s scapegoat du jour, the tensions between the company and the government are characteristic of the animosity between Turkey’s old capitalist elite and the Erdoğan administration. Erdoğan has also taken aim at the financial services industry, accusing the “interest rate lobby” of fanning unrest in order to speculate on the economy.
Unsurprisingly, German businessmen don’t share Erdoğan’s feelings. “Divan Hotels and Koç Family has showed solidarity and courage during Gezi Park protests and proved how important hospitality is during crisis situations,” PKF chair Michael Widman told Hurriyet Daily News.