turkey protest 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Forty-four percent fewer Israelis traveled to Turkey in 2009 than in 2008, according to the Israel-Turkey Business Council.
"Diplomatic or political fallouts like the one that took place this week are a main reason for the falling numbers of Israeli visits to Turkey. In 2008, a record number of 560,000 Israelis visited Turkey. In 2009, the number dropped to a little over 300,000," Danny Zimet, deputy chairman of the council, said on Thursday. "The statements made, particularly by those on the Turkish side, have a clear influence on tourism numbers.
"People listen, and the proof is in the numbers," Zimet told The Jerusalem Post
. "Last year, the drop came after statements were made by Turkish officials in reaction to Operation Cast Lead. We still don't know how the recent events will affect 2010 travel plans, but we don't really expect a rise to 2008 levels. The best case scenario is that the numbers remain stable," he said.
The decisive factor in the 2009 statistics was the decisions of the major labor unions to ban Turkey as a destination for organized vacations, Zimet said.
"All the big unions, the banks, the utility companies, everyone decided to ban Turkey last year. Later this month they meet to decide where they'll go this year. If because of the diplomatic fallout they decide to ban Turkey again, the numbers will likely continue to drop."
When asked about the number of Turkish visitors to Israel, Zimet said it was embarrassingly low. "We can't know for sure how many people come over from Turkey, because they are not counted separately. The Tourism Ministry generally knows the exact number of tourist according to country of origin, but because of the small numbers, Turkey is designated as "other" and not counted separately. An educated guess would be somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000," he said.
Zimet said that despite the fact that Israel had a lot to offer Turkish tourists, especially in terms of holy sites, there were barriers to their arrival. "One reason is that the Tourism Ministry does nothing to market Israel to the Turkish audience," he said. "That's the root of the problem, but the biggest impediment is the visa requirement. Unlike Israelis, who don't require a visa to travel to Turkey, Turkish nationals still have to go through the bureaucratic hassle of getting a visa."
Politics aside, Israelis love Turkey, said Eyal Kashdan, CEO of Flying Carpet, the largest provider of flights and tour packages to Turkey.
"It has everything most Israelis want in a travel destination and the resorts there offer the best packages as far as Israelis are concerned," said Kashdan. "I'm talking about everything, from the travel time it takes to get there, to the price, to the activities, down to the food at the buffet.
"Israelis love it that they can go for a week, knowing that their children will be entertained, that they will have plenty to eat and drink, that they can go shopping in the markets, that the weather will be similar to what they have here and that the price will be affordable."
Kashdan was cautious in putting all the blame for the drop in tourism on the political situation. "You have to remember that we are in the midst of a global economic crisis and fewer people are going away in general, not just to Turkey," he said.
Kashdan said his company was investing heavily in locating alternative travel destinations for those who are disturbed by the political situation, and identified Bulgaria, Cyprus and the Greek islands as a suitable fit.
"The bottom line, though, is that for years people in the tourism industry have been looking for 'the new Turkey,' but so far no one has succeeded," he said.