Relations between Israel and Turkey have been upgraded from frigid to tepid in
recent months, with ambassadors from the two countries soon to be exchanged.
Israeli and Turkish Tour operators have been salivating since the dramatic
announcement a few months ago of a historic phone call. In a makeshift trailer
set up on the tarmac at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, US President Barack Obama
and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called Erdogan and apologized for the nine
deaths that resulted from the boarding by Israeli soldiers of the Turkish ship
Social media exploded with reports that Turkish resorts
would soon be filled with Israelis eager to partake of the excellent properties
and great value that they had come to expect during the previous decade. While
too close to the dual holidays of Easter and Passover, when Israelis travel in
droves, it was assumed that all efforts would be aimed at the start of the
The largest, most coveted groups of travelers this summer
are those privileged employees of large companies.
Whether it is workers
at Bank Leumi, the Israel Defense Force, the Dead Sea Works, Egged or others,
these working stiffs pay monthly stipends so they can take an annual vacation.
Calculated at over $500 million dollars, their purchasing power has tourism
ministries around the world trying to woo them. So when the most recent survey
of all workers’ committees found that almost across the board, these companies
have voted with their feet not to visit Turkey, it came as quite a
Cyprus and Greece, along with cities such as Prague and Budapest,
with a small minority electing to vacation inside Israel, led the list. Many
were still hesitant about rushing back to Turkey, and the dearth of rock-bottom
prices led these nine-to-fivers to spend their hard-earned shekels
Turkish Airlines, though, need not worry. In fact with 35
flights a week to Istanbul, it has emerged as the dirty little secret causing
havoc for all other airlines that fly in and out of Israel.
facts: Turkish Airlines is the national airline of Turkey. It operates flights
to almost 200 international cities and 35 domestic cities inside Turkey. It
carried in 2012 39 million passengers, exceeding $9 billion in revenues. With
over 15,000 employees, one of its most attractive features is being a member of
the Star Alliance network, which it joined over five years ago. Being able to
tap into other airline members of the Star Alliance, such as Lufthansa, Swiss,
Austrian, Brussels Air, United Airlines and SAS, to name a few, has allowed them
to attract frequent fliers from throughout the world.
Bold moves are
becoming the hallmark of Turkish Airlines, one of the world’s fastest-growing
carriers. At a time when many airlines (think El Al) are struggling to stay
aloft, Turkish Airlines is expanding aggressively. It now flies to 98 countries,
more than any other airline. In the past 10 years, following Turkey’s
deregulation of its airline industry, Turkish Airlines quadrupled its number of
passengers and tripled its aircraft. Its fleet of planes is half the average age
(six years) of its European competitors.
Flat-bed business seats (still
waiting for El Al to enter this category) and a commitment to excellence have
earned in many surveys the title of Best European Airline.
are beginning to compare Turkish Airlines to Gulf carriers Emirates and Qatar
Airways, which pride themselves on customer service. Three years ago it unveiled
a slick global marketing campaign featuring Laker great Kobe Bryant with
Barcelona’s Lionel Messi. They are on the right path; their profit for 2012
climbed by over $650 million dollars.
The airline has benefitted from a
growing economy and a rise in tourism; whether recent demonstrations will stop
this growth remains to be seen. Last year 35 million travelers visited the
The airline is being marketed to capitalize on Turkey’s
advantageous geography, as a hub carrier for international travel. Last year,
the airline added routes to 22 new cities, and has increased its network of
routes by 43% since 2009. It’s managed to keep operating costs relatively low
with its newer, more fuel-efficient planes and the country’s cheap
Competitors say the airline has been helped along by the
government, particularly in terms of infrastructure investment. Turkey is
gearing up to build a brand-new airport in Istanbul, reputed to be one of the
largest in the world. The airline’s short-term goal is to fly 2,000 flights a
day, double its current level. United Airlines, by comparison, operates 5,000
flights a day. And while Turkish Airlines is no longer a government-controlled
entity (it was privatized in 2006 with the government retaining a 49% share),
there is no doubt that the government takes great pride in its success. It has
the product, the capacity and top senior management.
So how does it fill
five daily flights between Tel Aviv and Istanbul? By offering prices that
undercut the competition by hundreds, if not thousands of dollars! Dan and Miri
are flying with Turkish Airlines to Helsinki this summer for $499 per person.
Ronen is flying to Washington next month in business class for
This summer season, which is now upon us, will see prices higher
than they ever have been. It’s not just the airfares; with over $6b. in revenues
earned by US airlines in 2012 for baggage and change fees, the consumer is well
aware that the costs of flying only start with the ticket.
Hot spots this
summer will be Greece and Cyprus for the budget-conscious; Eastern Europe for
those with more coin. Scandinavia and the large capital cities of Europe –
London, Paris and Rome – will attract many more. North America will still be the
number one destination for Israelis, taking advantage of a weak dollar as they
shop their way from coast to coast. With almost all airlines only letting
leisure passengers check one bag, the fact that Turkish Air permits two never
fails to elicit a wide grin from clients.
It’s not just the leisure
client who has discovered Turkish Airlines. The Israeli road warrior flying to
Mumbai or Beijing elects to fly via Istanbul rather than nonstop on El Al, and
pocket the huge differential in the airfare. Airline executives in Israel moan
that they cannot fathom how Turkish Air has such low prices. They offer such
theories as huge government subsidies, cheap Turkish labor or illegal Iranian
oil that’s piped into Turkey and siphoned off by the airline.
don’t know the truth. I simply enjoy watching a well-run airline kick sand at
While the recent history of insulting remarks made by
the Turkish prime minister leaves an astringent taste in my mouth coupled with
his parochial patter, the fact that Turkish Airlines is the largest foreign
airline in terms of passengers, operating out of Israel, leads to the obvious
conclusion: Israelis, like so many others in the world, enjoy their Turkish
The author is the CEO of Ziontours Jerusalem.
questions & comments, email him at [email protected]