Turkey’s tourism industry suffering from Israelis’ rebuff

Israelis have, in effect, launched a boycott against Turkey.

July 1, 2010 22:33
3 minute read.
PART OF a Turkish ad campaign launched in March to

Turkey Tourism 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

With all charter flights to Turkey canceled and the sole remaining carrier, Turkish Airlines, reducing flight numbers and plane sizes, the Turkish tourism sector is beginning to feel the loss of the small but profitable Israeli tourism market.

Since the May 31 Israeli raid on the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s subsequent hostile rhetoric, Israelis have, in effect, launched a boycott against Turkey.

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The Turkish daily Hurriyet reported Wednesday that the Turkish economy has lost at least $400 million due to cancelled Israeli renovations, and that some Turkish tour agencies are facing bankruptcy.

“Our company’s main business channel has been cut,” Levent Güner, the owner of Levantin Tour, told the paper. “Who will retrieve my 3.5 million-lira loss?” For the last 15 years, Turkey has been a primary travel destination for Israeli vacationers, particularly during the summer school vacation.

Planeloads of tourists would make their way on chartered flights to the all-inclusive resorts in Antalya and Bodrum.

But on Wednesday, when the Israel Airports Authority published its outlook for summer travel, Turkish destinations were nowhere to be seen. A list once dominated by them is now led by Greece, Italy, Germany, Spain and the United States.

According to Ran Rahav Public Relations, the firm that represents the Turkish Tourism Board in Israel, 18,000 Israelis entered Turkey in May and 72,465 Israelis have flown there since the beginning of the year.

Both numbers are increases compared to the same period year, when tourism to Turkey had also plunged following that country’s hostile response to Operation Cast Lead.

On Wednesday, Turkish Airlines announced that it would be replacing the Airbus 321 planes on the Tel Aviv-Istanbul route with the Airbus 320, which carries 30 fewer passengers. The airline said that while it is not officially canceling any of its 25 weekly flights, when planes are not full, it might combine flights.

Joseph Fischer, owner’s representative and executive board member of IDB Tourism, said he believed the losses cited in the Hurriyet article was a low estimate, because it didn’t calculate the losses to flight operators and the lost revenues of Turkish merchants.

“There are simply no more charter flights to Turkey and back.

None of the companies are even offering packages to Turkey anymore,” he Fischer.

“In previous years, a single company could fill up five flights a day during July and August. No matter how cheap flights are, that adds up,” he said.

“You also have to take into account that Israelis, unlike other vacationers, spend money outside the resort, too. While a German or Dutch tourist may go to a resort and never leave the premises, for Israelis a major part of the vacation is the shopping and spending.

It’s rare for someone who goes to Turkey to come back without a leather jacket or a carpet,” said Fisher. “There’s also the money spent on gambling.”

The main beneficiaries of the Israeli abandonment of Turkey appear to Greece and the Greek Islands, Cyprus and Eastern European countries. Their relative proximity to Israel and the similar climate makes them attractive substitutes, even if they don’t offer the much-adored all-inclusive resorts that Israelis found in Bodrum, Marmaris and Fethiye.

Another likely beneficiary will be the local tourism industry.

Many Israelis shunning Turkey have chosen instead to vacation in Eilat, the Dead Sea and Tiberias.

The hotel industry is prepared for the onslaught and is already warning of overbooking. As a result of the high demand, there will be far fewer discounts this summer.

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