Muslims are being encouraged to vacation in Turkey this summer to offset the estimated $ 4 0 0 million l o s s caused by Israelis boycotting the country as relations between the countries deteriorate.

A number of Muslim scholars and leaders issued a statement on June 17 praising Turkey’s position regarding Israel and welcoming Ankara’s efforts to “lift the siege on Gaza and the Palestinian people.” It called on Arabs and Muslims to show support for Turkey by boosting economic ties.

The statement called on “families and groups planning to travel to Europe, the US or elsewhere, to choose Turkey – where mosques and historic monuments of ancient and natural beauty exist – as a vacation destination instead.”

Issued from Doha, Qatar, the statement was signed by such influential leaders as Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, president of the International Union for Muslim Scholars; Abdullah Bin Baih, president of the Global Center for Renewal and Guidance; Dr. Salman al-Odah, chairman of the Islam Today Group; Chakib Ben Makhlouf, head of the Islamic Organizations in Europe; and Islamic thinker Dr. Muhammad Amara.

“The fleet of freedom was a giant step that opened the door to bring the international focus on the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip and was an attempt by the Turkish people, who believe in justice and have a sense of deep belonging to their Islamic roots, to break the siege,” read the statement, which was first aired on Al- Jazeera and was widely reported in the Arab media.

According to a report last week in the popular Turkish newspaper Hürriyet, more than 100,000 Israelis out of 150,000 with reservations have canceled their summer vacation bookings to Turkish resorts since the flotilla incident on May 31, causing a loss of about $400m.

Last week, Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben- Eliezer held a secret meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in an effort to smooth over relations between the two countries.

The report in Hürriyet included an interview with the owner of Levantin Tours, which has been bringing tourists from Israel to Turkey for more than 15 years. Levent Guner told the paper that his company had already posted a loss of some 3.5m. Turkish Liras (about $2.2m.) due to canceled reservations.

The company had hoped to bring in 17,000 Israeli tourists this year, but is bringing only 200, the report said.

On Sunday, Turkish Airlines announced that it will be reducing the frequency of weekly flights to Israel by 10 percent, the business daily TheMarker reported.

The airline company will also replace aircraft flying to Ben- Gurion Airport with smaller ones, due to the decreased number of Israeli tourists visiting Turkey.

Airport officials expect June travel statistics to show a 10% decrease in the amount of Israeli passengers flying with Turkish Airlines.

Despite these developments, official statements coming out of Turkey last week claimed that the country has not been affected by the decline in Israeli tourism. Hotelier Middle East.com, a regional tourism Web site, said that the Turkish tourism board had reported an increase in visitors from the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait) since the flotilla incident.

The site quoted Emin Kaya, the Turkish consul-general in Dubai, as saying that while Israeli tourists are now boycotting Turkey, the surge in visitors from the Gulf Cooperation Council had more than compensated for this.

He added: “We are losing maybe 95 percent of tourists from Israel, but we are compensating with tourists from this region many more times.

That situation had the impact of people from this region booking more holidays to Turkey. When Israel attacked the Turkish flotilla, GCC visitors increased their bookings to Turkey by 20% in two days.”

The online report also noted that visitors from the Gulf Cooperation Council spend more than Israeli tourists, who usually spend $600-650 per person. Visitors from the Gulf Cooperation Council spend around $2,400 per person.

Meanwhile, the Tourism Ministry in Jerusalem says visitors to Israel have not been deterred by the international outcry over the flotilla incident in which nine men – eight Turks and a Turkish-American – were killed.

Globes reported on Thursday that Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov said that there had been no decline in the number of incoming tourists last month, but rather a rise in comparison to the same period last year.

Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog, who was tourism minister in 2006-7, met last month with his Bulgarian counterpart, Nikolai Mladinov, and discussed ways to increase the number of Israeli tourists to Bulgaria as an alternative to Turkey.

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