Friday’s surprise apology by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to Turkish Prime
Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan could potentially mean the return of Israeli
tourists to their once-beloved holiday destinations on the “Turkish Riviera,”
according to tourism industry executives in Israel.
Ami Cohen, general
manager of tour operator “Kavei Hofsha,” said Sunday “if this turns out to be a
real reconciliation and not just headlines in the press, then Israelis will
return to Antalya big time.”
Cohen said that on Sunday morning his
company already saw 20 to 30 non- Arab Israelis order tickets to Turkey. He said
it’s nothing like four to five years ago, when customers would order tens of
thousands of package deals to Turkey through the company, but that soon the
Israelis traveling to Turkey will no longer be solely from the Arab-Israeli
Up until relations between Israel and Turkey began to sour about
five years ago, around 500,000 Israeli tourists visited Turkey each year –
enticed by the allinclusive resorts of Antalya and the affordable shopping
opportunities in the country’s bazaars. They also tended to find a sort of
mutual affinity with their Turkish hosts, as well as the local food and
Such tourism for Israelis virtually vanished after the Mavi
Marmara incident in May 2010, and since then nearly all remaining Israeli
tourists to Turkey have been Israeli Arabs. Those Jewish Israelis who before had
been hooked on the all-inclusive resorts instead turned to the Greek islands,
Cyprus and Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast, as well as in smaller numbers to domestic
resorts in Eilat, Tiberias and the Dead Sea.
Joseph Fischer, the head of
Vision Hospitality and Travel, said the reconciliation, assuming it sticks, will
represent “a major blow to domestic Israeli tourism,” not only for hotels in
Eilat but also in the Dead Sea and Tiberias, where Israelis traveled in recent
years instead of Turkey.
Fischer said that the Israeli customers who
would have traveled to Antalya before never really found a satisfactory
alternative within or outside Israel, and that they will return in droves to
Turkey during the summer.
“A real alternative to Turkey was never found.
Even Greece didn’t have the combination of the all-inclusive, the shopping and
the duty free. There’s not another destination that can compete with
In an unpublished essay he wrote Sunday titled, “Friends, the
party’s over!” Fischer said that he predicts Turkish travel agents and hotels
will launch a major effort to bring back Israeli tourists, which will include
very competitive prices and that “this summer we will see hundreds of charter
flights taking off to Antalya and Marmaris on the departure boards at Ben-Gurion
Despite being a small minority of the 31 million tourists who
visit Turkey per year, Israeli tourists tend to do a much larger than usual
amount of shopping abroad, making their absence felt by the shop owners in the
tourist areas of the Turkish Riviera, Istanbul and elsewhere in
Yossi Fatael, managing director of the Israel Travel Agents
Association was a bit more measured than Fischer, saying that while he does
expect to see Israeli tourists going back to Turkey this summer, it won’t be at
nearly the same numbers as before.
Fatael said that for one thing Antalya
is not as cheap as it was in years earlier, and Israelis have gradually found
other destinations since.
Regardless, he said Israelis returning to visit
Turkey “won’t happen right away, it depends on the behavior of the
Shabtai Shai, director of the Eilat Hotels Association,
said Sunday he is not too worried about the effect the apology will have on
tourism in the Red Sea city, saying that while it could take a bit out of their
business, it shouldn’t be too dramatic.
“There were people who come to
Eilat as an alternative to Turkey, but it wasn’t a lot, maybe 10% of visitors.
The places Israelis went instead were more often Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria. It
wasn’t that the 500,000 Israelis who used to go to Turkey suddenly all started
going to Eilat instead.” Shai added “if Israelis do return to Turkey it will be
gradual. We’ll see some already going back this summer, but it won’t be 500,000
people so the impact on Eilat should be small.”