Plain clothes police walk on the main pedestrian street of Istiklal in central Istanbul during a May Day demonstration in Istanbul May 1, 2014.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Turkish-Israel rapprochement ratified last week in the Turkish parliament will return Israel-Turkey relations to pre-2010 levels. But Israeli tourists are not returning to the country because of terrorist attacks and a Turkish government, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which is still perceived as anti-Semitic.
While over 500,000 Israelis traveled to Turkey in the peak years, prior to the 2010 Mavi Mamara flotilla incident, it is unlikely that Israeli revelers will enjoy the sun and sand of Turkey’s coast anytime soon.
“The fact that we now have relations does not mean Israelis are going to flock to Turkey; it’s considered unsafe,” Mark Feldman, CEO of Ziontours, told The Jerusalem Post.
Feldman’s company has sold around a 100 travel packages in the last the few days to Cyprus, Greece, Spain and elsewhere; however, zero of the packages were for Turkey.
Nevertheless, the Turkish government appears eager to upgrade ties with Israel. Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek expressed interest in visiting Israel only hours after the agreement was ratified.
“I expect to visit Israel during my next round of international visits,” Simsek said in a statement.
“As much as the Turkish and Israeli governments might wish to speed up the reconciliation between the two countries it will take longer time until it will take place on a people-to-people level,” stated professor Ofra Bengio a senior researcher at the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University and author of The Turkish-Israeli Relationship: Changing Ties of Middle Eastern Outsiders (2010).
According to Bengio, anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic propaganda in Turkey and the fear of terrorist attacks are hampering Israeli tourists’ interest in Turkey.
Terrorism and instability has been reoccurring in Turkey and Israel has released repeated travel warnings advising Israelis to avoid the country.
The same day that the Israel-Turkey rapprochement was ratified by Turkish lawmakers on August 20 a suspected ISIS child suicide bomber killed at least 51 people at a Kurdish wedding in the city of Gaziantep.
Two weeks after the rapprochement was officially announced on June 27 an attempted coup resulted in the death of more than 240 people.
Moreover, in June three Israelis were killed and 11 injured in a terrorist attack in Istanbul.
“In these circumstances we are not likely to witness a boom in Israeli tourism to Turkey. The trickle might grow when stability and security are back to the level of the 1990s,” Bengio told the Post
However, some within the Turkish tourism sector are optimistic that Israelis will travel to Turkey in light of the rapprochement.
Osman Ayik, chairman of the Turkish Hotels Federation, told the pro-Erdogan Daily Sabah in June that he anticipated a rapid recovery of the Israel-Turkey tourism sector.
Ayik even hoped to attract 1 million Israeli tourists.
Yet this optimism comes as Turkey is experiencing a tourism crisis, not solely caused by the lack of Israelis. According to Turkey’s Ministry of Tourism, the number of foreigners visiting the country plummeted around 40 percent in June 2016 relative to June 2015. This is Turkey’s biggest drop in tourism in 22 years, leading to revenue losses in the billions according to the Turkish Statistics Institute.
Izi Madam, owner of Easy Travel, which specializes in Israeli travel to Turkey concurs that for the time being Jewish-Israelis are steering clear of Turkey. Nevertheless, he predicts an uptick in demand this October. “If things are quiet and after the ambassadors will arrive, I think there will be a big increase in demand,” he told the Post.
For now, Israeli-Arabs are purchasing the vast majority of Easy Travel’s packages to Turkey. Still Madam is “preparing for a big demand in the coming years.”
Mark Feldman of Ziontours is more skeptical. He believes the future is unclear: “Will [tourism] change in 2017, maybe? But it will require no terrorism and no verbal attacks on Israel by the Turkish leadership.”
Despite instability, both Feldman and Madam agree that Turkey can offer an exceptional vacation experience. “The flight ticket price ($200-$400) is much less than other destinations,” stated Madam.
“The foundation is there for Israelis to return to Turkey,” remarked Feldman. “The resorts, the cities, and the hotels are excellent and the people by in large are very friendly.”
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