Bosphorus bridge, which links the city's European and Asian sides, is pictured in Istanbul, Turkey.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Like Lian Nasser, the 18-yearold Israeli woman from Tira who was killed in Saturday night’s terrorist attack in Istanbul, many Israeli Arabs have chosen Turkey as a prime vacation destination. While tourism for Jewish Israelis to Turkey dropped precipitously following tensions stemming from the 2010 flotilla incident, coupled by ongoing terrorist attacks in Turkey, Arab Israelis continue to travel there in disproportionately higher numbers.
According to statistics released on Sunday by the Israel Airports Authority (IAA), the number one country in terms of traffic at Ben-Gurion Airport during 2016 was Turkey with nearly 10% of all incoming and outgoing traffic, or 1.6m.
travelers. However, most of the travelers arrive in Turkey in order catch a cheaper connection flight to a different final destination.
But, seeking competitive vacation packages, Israeli Arabs are undeterred by the political developments, said Mark Feldman, CEO of Zion Tours. He told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that 90% of his clientele who vacation in Istanbul and the troubled nation’s many resorts, are Arabs.
“This is not a new trend,” said Feldman. “This has been going on for several years. After Israel and Turkey severed diplomatic relations, Jewish Israelis pretty much stopped going there because they felt uncomfortable, as the president was badmouthing the Israeli people.”
Citing the sharp drop, Feldman said Turkish hoteliers seized on Israel’s considerable Arab market.
“They started lowering their prices dramatically and marketing to [Israeli] Arabs... who can fly out of Ben-Gurion Airport,” he said.
The gambit paid off.
“No matter what happened with diplomatic relations, Arab Israelis felt comfortable going to a Muslim country,” he explained.
Moreover, noting the generally high level of customer service, amenities and security provided at Turkish resorts compared to other popular vacation destinations, including Greece, Feldman said that while Turkey was always popular among Arab tourists, competitive deals sweetened the pot.
Additionally, he said, Istanbul’s development over the past 10 years as an increasingly hospitable and cosmopolitan city, drew more Arab Israeli visitors.
“This pattern has been reinforced for many, many years,” he continued, noting that Arabs of all ages and demographics continue to take advantage of Turkey’s special offers, which became even more competitive after the Russian economy flatlined.
“They are trying to appeal to the Arab population – Israeli and otherwise – including Saudi Arabs and Egyptian Arabs. They are trying to make it a culture in which Arabs feel comfortable.”
Asked if his Israeli-Arab clients feel compelled to hide where they came from, Feldman responded “not at all.”
“It may sound trite, but the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” he said. “That’s how the Arab Israelis felt. Here is a country that is bashing Israelis, but [they concluded] we can go there and feel comfortable.”
While the exact number of Israeli-Arab travelers to the country was not readily available via the Tourism Ministry, Feldman said the majority of Arab citizens seeking a vacation outside Israel travel to Turkey.
“This past year, 90% of the travelers going to Turkish resorts are Israeli Arabs,” he said. “There are lots of reasons why Jews stopped going there, but it had no effect on Israeli Arabs.”
However, noting the recent restoration of diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkey, Feldman said low Jewish numbers may begin to rise again.
“To be fair, the hotels are really nice to all Israelis,” he said.
“These are business people, OK? They want your money, and they don’t care if it comes in dollars, shekels or whatever, they will provide a quality holiday package.”Michael Zeff contributed to this report.