We Almost Ended Up In Greece, But You Can’t Go Wrong With A Pakistani Passport

I asked my wife to look for a hotel for us at a resort town called Çeşme. She headed to Booking.com to make the reservations. By giving 0 shits about the location, she sorted the listings by price and found a cheap and nice property.

It was cheaper than everything I had seen in Çeşme so it surprised me a bit. But she had made the reservations by that time. Later, but not too late, I found out that she booked us up in a resort town of Greece instead of Turkey and the hotel is in Chios and not Çeşme.

I was annoyed, but I was also surprised. How did Booking.com recommend her a place in Greece instead of Turkey. The reason is that both the places are really close. They are about 15 KMs apart and it takes merely 20 minutes to reach by ferry from Çeşme.

My suggestion to the travel website; when you make a recommendation like that, it’s not a feature but a bug. I understand they recommend near-by places when sorting by price, but they shouldn’t be recommending near by places beyond borders.

It’s such a shame that we can’t stay at the property we booked because obviously we can’t go to Greece without a visa. It would have been fun though, to cross borders like that on a ferry. I’m sure someday, but today isn’t that day.

Booking.com Is Restricted In Turkey, But There’s Something Interesting Happening

Because I use booking.com to book my hotels, I sometimes ask the hotels I stay in about the percentage of bookings they get from booking.com. The answer varies between 60% for some hotels and 80% for others. But it is safe to say that majority of the bookings.

For the last hotel I stayed in Istanbul, the manager claimed 75%. This is despite the fact that from within Turkey you can not use Booking.com to book properties in Turkey. So it means most of the bookings that hotels in Turkey get from Booking.com are booked from outside of Turkey or by foreigners. But some Turkish people also use booking.com to book properties within Turkey by using VPN.

Those who aren’t tech-savvy, and do not know how to by-pass the restriction, then book the properties using Kayak or Agoda. Hotels claim that after Booking.com, they get most bookings from Kayak or Agoda because they are not restricted from usage in Turkey. My last hotel claimed he gets 15% bookings from Kayak or Agoda. In summary 90% of his bookings are coming from Booking.com, Kayak & Agoda.

The interesting thing is that Kayak, Agoda and Booking.com are all owned by Booking Holdings.

Not just that Booking Holdings also own Priceline, Rentalcars.com, OpenTable, Momondo, Cheapflights and many other travel websites.

Booking.com charges 15% commissions to properties which most hotels are happy to pay as “marketing cost”. The manager I spoke to today says before this network, each hotel employed marketing staff and spent money on internet ads that may or may not always worked.

Booking Holdings posted $15 billion dollars in revenue in 2018. They don’t own any properties or any hotel rooms. Marriott posted $20 billion dollars in revenue in 2018 and it is the world’s largest hotel chain with 10,000+ properties and 1 million+ rooms. Since booking holdings has low operating costs compared to Marriott, their operating income is 2.5 times higher.

Taksim Square, My Turkey Love Affair & a Military Coup

Some people say that my repeat visits to Turkey are a complete waste of money. Some suggest that I should instead be going to a different county every time I plan a foreign visit. Despite what they say, somehow, I keep coming back to Turkey.

Today I was at Taksim Square and later visited Galata tower, which by the way, looks even better during the night. Taksim reminded me of a story, and I thought to share it with you guys. But before that, I want to give you some back story about Pakistani people.

Due to constant terrorist attacks in Pakistan, two things happened to Pakistanis. One that I’m proud of and the other one that I’m ashamed of.

I’m proud of the fact that Pakistanis live with tawakkul which roughly translates into trusting in God’s plan. Most countrymen are not afraid of death or misfortune on the same level as most other people in the world. Despite seeing so much, Pakistani people continued with their lives, became fearless in the face of adversity and started to live with tawakkul and hope that nothing bad will happen. And if it does, it is meant to be. This makes it easier and better to live life despite the adversity.

The second thing, which I’m ashamed of, is that with so much pain also came acceptance of pain to the point that some people stopped feeling pain at times. This roughly means that many people became impassive or beyhis, showed no emotion or became cold at the time of adversity.

I think both the things are linked. They are just different reactions to same events.

Now back to the Taksim story. It was June of 2016. There was a terrorist attack at Ataturk airpot in Istanbul. I was still in Pakistan at that time. I had a trip to Turkey scheduled for July 2016. I went ahead with my plan and came to Turkey. My hotel was booked at Taksim square. It was my 2nd day in the city and I started hearing helicopters, jets and gunshots. In the next couple of minutes, I found out there is a coup under process.

We were asked to stay in-doors through out the evening. There was a lot of violence during the night but everything had cleared by morning. Turkish people fought off the coup with bare hands and by morning they had won and had foiled the coup attempt.

Audio recording from the hotel room at Taksim square

There was a massive celebration the following day at Taksim square. I celebrated too and was able to spot other Pakistanis doing the same.

I’m happy that Turkey is able to come out of that time and I hope they will defeat the economic turmoil too.

Pakistan-Turkey Dual Citizenship, Myth & Facts

Today I met a Turk who is a student immigration advisor. His firm runs ads on Google but has recently stopped advertising in Pakistan. The reason he did that is because their query volume increased by 1000% in the last week. All of their budget was getting consumed by leads that didn’t convert. That happened because a news story surfaced in Pakistan about Pakistan and Turkey looking forward to sign a dual-citizenship agreement.

The news was interpreted in Pakistan with an assumption that all Pakistanis will automatically become Turkish citizens and all Turks will automatically become Pakistani citizens. The news was fueled by all Pakistani newspapers who are responsible for giving that feel to the news. This was further fueled by celebrities such as Hamza Ali Abbasi who called this resurgence of Khilafat movement and further suggested that we should also have one currency like European Union (WTF, Hamza bro?).

The truth is that all of that is baseless. There is indeed a deal between the governments happening, but the deal only means that any individual is now able to keep both citizenships in an event he’s offered one such citizenship through regular means such as by marriage, investment, naturalization (spending time etc), or through any other means that existed before. This agreement is identical to how Pakistanis can keep both Pakistani and American citizenships at the same time. But not all Pakistanis automatically become Americans.

Without this agreement in place, all Pakistanis had to give up their Pakistani citizenship in order to acquire Turkish citizenship and vice versa.

Pakistan already has such deals with many other countries including muslim countries such as Egypt, Syria, Jordan & Bahrain. Pakistan also has this treaty with many western and European countries. A treaty of this kind with Turkey is a step in right direction, but it isn’t what everyone has concluded it to be.

Turkey, Again

I’m travelling to Turkey, again. I first visited Turkey when I was 6 months old. My parents took me there. They have a lot of footage from our trip which I also recently got to watch again.

My father, who is retired now, spent a lot of time in the past few weeks trying to digitize all the VHS content that he had. He has found some success and restored a lot of that content.

My second visit to Turkey was when I was 25. Since then I’ve been there every year, at least once.

Turkey is what Pakistan could have been. It is also one of the potential countries suited best for digital nomadism.

The quality of life is miles ahead of what it is here in Pakistan. The cost of living is incredibly cheaper than most of the developed countries. In my opinion, cost of living is only 33% higher in the metropolis of Turkey compared to the metropolis of Pakistan. So, if you need $1000 to live in Pakistan, you only need $1300-$1400 to live in Turkey.

This slightly higher cost for a much better lifestyle makes it my favorite spot to spend some quality time.

Here’s my favorite video about Turkey.