For a weekender in Istanbul, the priorities are to visit Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, two of the most important and imposing places of prayer in the city, which nearly mirror each other in both position and architecture, having a history that is closely entwined with that of the Ottoman Empire. Also high on the list of attractions are Topkapi Palace and Dolmabahce Palace, the Grand Bazaar and the Taksim area, as well as a boat ride across the Bosphorus. These are the bare essentials for a weekender, but the truth is, to take the pulse of the city more than 10 days are necessary. Ideally, this time would allow the tourist not only to visit the multiple monuments that Istanbul has to offer, but also discover its small mosques, loiter on some of its many narrow streets, brimming with history, and visit some of its restaurants and clubs. Last but not least, any opportunity to taste Turkish cuisine, including the very rich variety of Turkish delights, pastry and cakes, is not to be passed up. Turkey received over 26 million international tourists in 2008, a recession year, according to statistics from the country's tourist office. Many of them pass through Istanbul as well. In fact, it is possible that the recession gave the city an advantage since many tourists may have preferred Istanbul to more expensive destinations. For Romanians, Istanbul is an equally important destination for business and leisure. Marius Negre, business development manager with Vola.ro, an online flight booking agency, tells Business Review that half of the tickets to Istanbul sold by his firm are purchased by business travelers. “These clients generally go during the week, while those who want to visit the city usually go over the weekend, for a period of at most three days,” says Negre. “We estimate that the traffic to Istanbul represents 3-5 percent of the number of tickets sold by Vola.ro.” Business travel through Vola.ro has increased as a result of the current trend for companies to reduce their travel expenses. Approximately 20 percent of the tickets booked on Vola.ro to Istanbul are weekend getaways. “This percentage is very important, so we have developed a system through which clients can check the available price only for flights over the weekend for a period of three months ahead, just by a simple click,” says Negre, adding that about 10 percent of the tourists who travel to Istanbul go strictly for shopping. In the case of travel agency Accent Travel and Events, general manager Lucian Boronea tells Business Review that this year, 40 percent of the agency's clients travelled for business and 60 percent for leisure. By contrast, in 2008, 70 percent of the journeys to Istanbul were for business purposes and only 30 percent for tourism. Generally, corporate packages include transportation services – 95 percent of clients prefer flying to any other means of transport – as well as accommodation – on average, customers prefer four-star hotels – and transfer, mostly from the airport to the hotel and back. “The offer is customized depending on individual requests such as accommodation in a certain area of the city, or flying with a certain airline,” he says. Most of the demand for tourism packages is for short stays or long weekends, which means approximately three-four nights in Istanbul. Weekend tourism represents 35 percent of the total number of packages sold by Accent Travel and Events for Istanbul. It is hard to estimate how much shopping tourism represents since it is mostly combined with other pursuits. “However, shopping tourism in Istanbul is very popular in February and March. It varies with the traditional price reductions for items of leather clothing. At least half of the weekend travelers have shopping as their main aim,” says Boronea. Tourism on winter holidays represents 45 percent of the total number of sold packages. However, this year Boronea expects an increase of 10-15 percent in this period, on the back of more reasonable prices for transportation and accommodation. Next year, when Istanbul becomes European Capital of Culture, it is expected to welcome 10 million tourists.