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Jonathan Crook talks to Le Journal des Palaces about the first year of operation of The Peninsula Istanbul, a unique hotel on the Turkish scene, and its ambitions at the heart of a vibrant community


Jonathan Crook talks to Le Journal des Palaces about the first year of operation of The Peninsula Istanbul, a unique hotel on the Turkish scene, and its ambitions at the heart of a vibrant community

Category: Middle East - Turkey - - Interviews
Interview made by Vanessa Guerrier-Buisine on 2023-12-22

Jonathan Crook, Managing Director of The Peninsula Istanbul

Jonathan Crook, Managing Director of The Peninsula Istanbul
Photo credit © Bradley Secker / The Peninsula Istanbul

The Bosphorus has taken on an air of majesty since Peninsula built one of its jewels there. Opening in February 2023, Peninsula Istanbul not only enjoys an exceptional location in the Karaköy district, but has benefited from the magic of Turkish artists, craftsmen and other architects, transforming three historic buildings into a captivating hotel.

The 177 room and suite hotel is now a significant part of Turkey's luxury hospitality industry ecosystem, and its Managing Director, Jonathan Crook, intends to make the Peninsula Istanbul an essential for all travellers and members of the local community.

The man is steeped in Peninsula DNA, having worked with the company since 2000. From food and beverage to accommodation, the man has crossed not only departments, but also countries, having worked at Peninsula New York, Chicago, Beijing, Tokyo and Manila. Today, it's at the crossroads that he has set down his suitcases, heading for the Peninsula Istanbul.

We met Jonathan Crook at the ILTM in Cannes, where he revealed the charms of his property.

How does the Peninsula Istanbul stand out from other hotels in its category?

In all our properties globally, we have unique and very special locations. And in Istanbul's case, our location is quite spectacular. Because we're right in the heart, on the Bosphorus, facing the Old Town directly, the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace. In 12 minutes, you can be walking into the entrance of the Egyptian Spice Bazaar. So, this combination of being on the water and more or less in the Old Town is unique to any other hotels in the city.

We worked with Zeynep Fadıllıoğlu, our interior designer, one of Turkey's most prominent interior designers. We're taking on three historic buildings; the two buildings either side of our lobby are from 1910 and from 1912, and most importantly, the main lobby building is the old cruise terminal, built in 1937. So, there's a wonderful connection and story here, and Zeynep’s really worked very closely with the local Heritage Foundation, etc. To protect the building and to give honour to the past, but also be reflective and then give it a fresh note.

And of course, the DNA of Peninsula, in our guest rooms, the heated floors, the special technology throughout the guest rooms, the large walking across areas and the nail dryers in the drawer are here. It goes with the Turkish DNA, from the style of the carpets, the beautiful stone quarried from eastern Turkey. Then you open up the double - height windows Parisian style, and you can feel the heart of Istanbul.

And then there’s the outdoor pool on the water, but also the gardens designed by Enzo Enea, who did the courtyard at the Peninsula London. It’s spectacular because it’s like a park and that's truly a difference from the other hotels.

To top it, I have to work with Turkish hospitality, which is outstanding.

How would you define Turkish hospitality?

Peninsula is very genuine, very humble through its service. It's not about an individual, it's about truly trying to connect the guests to the location, to the hotel, to the services we provide. To make it a seamless experience is critical, something we do very well at the hotel. The heart, the sense of family are in the Turkish culture.

What unique experiences do you offer your guests inside the hotel?

It's a combination: the location, the gardens, and world-class spa products. Not only we have the 25 metres swimming pool outside which is heated year-round, but our spa is spectacular.
When we did the lobby building, we added a new floor, and this became the 2,500 sqm. Spa, with this incredible Marmara Turkish marble, exquisite two hammam and the world-class services. We work with Subtle Energies, an Australian brand, with Margy's Monte Carlo, with MBR. Next summer we'll be working with different yoga specialists because outside we have little areas of grass and privacy where we could do sunrise yoga.

And then from a dining perspective, we are working with Fatih Tutak, who is Turkey's only two-star Michelin chef, and he's opened this spectacular rooftop restaurant, GALLADA. And the romance of this is the story of the Silk Road’s Eurasian cuisine.

What’s your most exclusive suite?

Our suite-terrace is a spectacular, 510 square metres duplex, with one bedroom connecting to a second bedroom at the top floor. Guests have their second floor entertainment area and a second dining room, and then a relaxation area with the hammam, a gym, and a cinema room. The terrace, with its private swimming pool, is 360 degrees.

We have a couple of repeat guests, with an average of around 10% occupancy, that's very good for a top suite, and obviously, we expect that to continue to grow.

And what unique experiences do you offer your guests outside the hotel?

We have our own boat-landing here. We started production of two custom bespoke yachts, Peninsula Green will be a 14.5 metre, for about 14 people, and we will use it for a couple of experiences. Likewise, we will offer a service from the airport, where you take our house-car for about 40 minutes and the last 12 minutes are by this new boat. So it's that sense of arrival and destination, bringing together that majesty. We'll do tours, with champagne, lunches or just sightseeing, obviously of the Bosphorus, go out to the Prince Islands, which is another wonderful place to go and visit.

We have the Peninsula Academy to provide unique experiences, which are not typical tourist experiences. For example, in our hotel, in the corridors we have this beautiful black and white photography by Ara Güler, one of Turkey's most renowned photographers from the 50s and 60s. His most famous photographs are all taken around this Karaköy area, showing the historic beauty. We do a walking tour where he took his photographs, explaining the history of this area.

Another experience which is fun, especially for teenagers as well, is going on to the roof of the Grand Bazaar. Because it was made famous by James Bond movies, by Tom Cruise in his movies, and Liam Neeson in his Taken movies.

After several months of opening, how did the business start up? Which markets are most present?

It's been a good opening, we've received such a good media coverage, we've been awarded, Travel + Leisure put us on the hit list, Virtuoso #1 hotel, and so on. So that recognition is a credit to the team and obviously the physical beauty of the city.

Sadly, we opened one week after that tragic earthquake. The chairman cancelled his visit, we went very quiet, we just unlocked the door and started. But at the same time, the company decided to donate €10 per room night from all the hotels in the company, apart from two, towards the rebuilding of southern Turkey, under the name of “Hope for Turkey”. At the moment, we've raised nearly €$4,000,000.

So, we've had a few bumps in the road. This summer, we could see that the momentum started, and we’ve had great visitors from our key markets, which were between US, UK, France, Germany, Russia, and the Middle East as well. We have a nice blend of business, but of course, that momentum has been a little disrupted, sadly, because of the Israeli Gaza war. Turkey tourism slowed down a bit because there's hesitation, obviously what's happening in Israel.

Despite these bumps, have the reception venues, which are an important part of your offer, been as successful as expected?

The ballroom is spectacular. It's 470 seats. Not only the ballroom, but the restaurants; the rooftop restaurant, the lobby, these are destinations which should become part of the fabric of the community of Istanbul. We’ve had our first four or five weddings already, and obviously, many corporate events locally have been booked. A lot of different, like Netflix film releases or like Harper's Bazaar Women of the Year for the first time in Turkey.

This is beginning to connect the dots with the local community. We had a beautiful festive Christmas tree lighting, where we invited the community to come. There hasn't been that investment in connecting with the community, and that's very essential because our intention is very long term. We really want to build up that connection with the local community.

What are your ambitions for the coming months?

Now the hotel is fully open. Obviously, my ambitions, that’s now challenged a little bit with the crisis going on, is really continuing to grow the hotel as a sense of community. But then growing its reputation, and ensuring that reputation, globally from our key markets, bring guests into it.

Our director of sales and marketing has a big task to travel the world with the team and now start making the bookings. Even though there may be a crisis or something which is affecting room occupancy, our restaurants, our ballroom are still being booked for weddings and events and social occasions.

What projects or events are coming up at Peninsula Istanbul?

The focus is developing the spring / summer offering from the SPA. We’re looking at the Peninsula Academy to grow the experiences that can be enjoyed by guests. By the middle of the summer, hopefully we'll be launching our first yacht. So, there are many elements which continue to speak to the clients and such.

The majestic lobby of the Peninsula Istanbul

The majestic lobby of the Peninsula Istanbul
Photo credit © Emre Dorter / The Peninsula Istanbul

The rooftop restaurant GALLADA at The Peninsula Istanbul
Photo credit © The Peninsula Istanbul

The Marmara marble hammam at The Peninsula Istanbul
Photo credit © Emre Dorter / The Peninsula Istanbul

Suite bedroom at The Peninsula Istanbul
Photo credit © The Peninsula Istanbul

The Peninsula suite living-room at Peninsula Istanbul
Photo credit © The Peninsula Istanbul

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About the author

As a journalist and luxury hotel expert inspired by the men and women who embody it, Vanessa aspires to enhance and sublimate the beauty and elegance of palaces through her writing. "In a palace, simplicity serves the quest for excellence" she admires.

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