Reachable by plane from Istanbul on a 50 minute flight, Bodrum has long been considered the Riviera of Turkey, with an upscale positioning of resorts and hotels. In the high season, there are also direct flights (before pandemic) from major European cites such as London. Most likely, as the pandemic restrictions will be lifted, this year, there will only be the direct flights from Istanbul on Turkish Airlines and Pegasus.
While the season is relatively short, starting late May, until mid October, beyond the offerings of each resort, the town itself offers exceptional dining, with a huge variety of venues, from ‘taverna’ type to fine dining. Sailing activities are rife, while wine tastings or day trips are also offered. One of the key differentiating factors is the beach access, only few resorts having direct access, and even to a lesser extent a natural sand beach.
Kempinski Barbaros Bay, Bodrum is among the first international luxury hotel branded properties to open in Bodrum. The lavish resort which is built on the cliffs of Barbaros Bay overlooks the serene Gulf of Gökova, with its very own ‘Blue-flagged’ natural sand private beach. The property has been uniquely conceived to cater for families with children but also couples or mature groups. It also boasts one of the largest Spas among the luxury resorts in Bodrum.
The culinary offering comprises of contemporary Turkish cuisine at ‘Barbarossa’, exotic Pan-Asian tastes with a modern twist at ‘Saigon’, trattoria style dining with magical Italian flavours in ‘La Luce’ and an al fresco day time seaside lounge serving generous international light snacks timelessly by the pool. Food is excellent, including specialised Chefs and service is impeccable, personalised and warm. For those on a shorter stay, the dining offerings cover the most discerning tastes.
Despite many other luxury resorts opening in the recent years, including major international luxury brands / chains, Kempinski Bodrum has established a solid reputation on its consistent and reliable high customer service standards. Accommodations include not only a variety of rooms and suites but also larger accommodations especially for longer stays at Barbaros Reserve, a stand alone luxury residential complex which is more recently built and managed by Kempinski.
The fully furnished and equipped accommodations at Barbaros Reserve feature a more sleek contemporary architecture and interior design benefit from all the services of the hotel. There is also a restaurant and a private beach section which are exclusively reserved for the residents of the Reserve.
The resort itself impresses with its variety of swimming pools, including ones dedicated to children. The private beach is exceptionally services. I was impressed to see that many staff would recognise guests and remember their preferences – which is also obvious that there is a good number of returning guests. The mix of guests is also ideal, without a particular nationality predominating, except for the shoulder seasons, the resort also hosting larger events, including private but also business.
The only weakness of the property is the need for a refurbishment and renovation of all accommodations and the Spa, although these are very well kept with annual maintenance. Kempinski has long established itself as a leading luxury hotel brand, operating the iconic heritage palace of Ciragan in Istanbul located right on the Bosphorus – a classic style property which is also in need of renovations.
Returning to Mandarin Oriental, Bodrum almost six years weeks after its official opening, was an overall pleasant experience. The accommodations and the Spa have remained the key unique selling points which the luxury resort commands. Italian architect Antonio Citterio, known for the interior design of all Bvlgari Hotels & Resorts, delivered an exceptional and solid interior design, with no expense sparred on the finest marbles, stones and wood, instilling a sleek contemporary style with a classic twist. This is reflected in how well maintained the interiors look, both accommodation and public spaces.
Even for the entry level accommodations feature bathrooms which had been conceived as ‘private Spas’, all with natural light, a free-standing bathtub and a large walk-in shower, with dedicated vanity for him and her. Beds are exceptionally comfortable while attention has also been paid to technology, with perfectly adjustable silent AC, SmartTv’s and the centralised bed-side controls of lights, DND and curtains. From the entry level rooms which measure over 70 sqm, most of the accommodations boast outdoor terraces.
On this occasion, I experienced an entry level Garden View Room, which presents a huge contrast to the upper suite categories, some of which have their own private pool – on my first stay, I was privileged to stay in a Mediterranean Suite. Views are spectacular and the private pool is a huge value added. Another WOW factor of these suites is the fact that bathrooms are light flooded with a floor to ceiling sliding window which opens onto the private pool and garden space.
One of the challenges which I observed from my first stay, which was shortly after the official opening, was huge investment in the entire complex, obviously the owners betting on the sale of the residential units which make up to more than half of the entire resort. Another major issue for any hotel or resort in Bodrum is the relatively short season, which runs from early May to late September. Mandarin Oriental Bodrum attempted for a few years to operate for a longer period, however, due to the windy, cold and rainy weather, this proved to be impossible. The attempts were based on the Spa and on attracting a variety of events.
Considering the investment, it was obvious that a feasible business plan would not be easy to achieve, at the time, the resort boasting the highest rates in Bodrum, the only comparable property being Kempinski Hotel Barbaros Bay, Bodrum. Aman‘s Amanruya opened pretty much at the same time with the Mandarin Oriental but was then closed for two years to reopen in 2019.
Also, at the time, the perception of Bodrum was not of a luxury destination, direct international luxury hotel group competitors opening a few years later – EDITION Bodrum (uncertain opening date), Six Senses Kaplankaya (uncertain opening in 2020 – possible de-branding), Sosuna Bodrum LXR by Hilton (opens July 1st – formerly Nikki Beach Resort) and The Bodrum Royal Palace (no longer under Paramount Hotels).
Due to the political circumstances, the weak Turkish economy of 2017 – 2019 also weighed on Bodrum, overall resulting in attracting a larger domestic market pool, yet, with a lower purchasing power, and a constantly declining foreign travellers market, especially from Western Europe and Russia. This resulted into a strong pressure on rates and shorter stays. New nationalities including Egypt, Morocco, Algeria – motivated by the swift entry visa to Turkey.
The owners of the Mandarin Oriental Bodrum resort have been focusing instead of the Mandarin Oriental Residences project in Istanbul, priority being given to the sale of the branded serviced residences and the hotel coming up at a later stage. The current pandemic is likely to postpone the Istanbul project with a difficult season at the Mandarin Oriental, Bodrum.
As a major international luxury hotel group, Mandarin Oriental has proven to be an ideal choice for the owners, not only because of the brand notoriety but also the expertise of the group in terms of management. From the first year, Mandarin Oriental Bodrum has been constantly increasing its customer service standards, thus providing consistency and reliability. In the past two years, the dining offerings have also been improved, the group having had experimented a few concepts.
With two properties de-branded and only one re-branded, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, some of the resorts may not even open for this year’s summer season. Mandarin Oriental Bodrum is, however, accepting reservations starting with May 20th. Additionally, due to the pandemic, some international direct flights may not operate this year, the only direct connection likely to remain Istanbul.
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