Hoteliers: Gaza op, not recession, causing tourism decline

After riots in Turkey, Israelis avoid country, refuse to fly Turkish Airlines.

eilat hotels 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
eilat hotels 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Israeli tourism industry has taken a hit due to the security situation, the head of the Israel Hotels Association told The Jerusalem Post Monday, but Israeli hotels are not alone in feeling the fallout of increased tensions. Following anti-Israel riots in Turkey, Israelis are backing out of travel plans to the popular destination. Israel Hotel Association Dir.-Gen. Shmuel Zurel said there is a projected reduction of over 10 percent in hotel bookings for January. He said he was certain that the main factor was the security situation in southern Israel and not the worldwide recession, explaining that despite the recession, 2008 had been a peak year for visits to Israel. The main loser as a result of the conflict is likely to be Eilat, a popular destination for charter flights bringing European tourists for a brief respite from their frosty homelands. Charter flights, said Zurel, were not flying full, and hotels in the southern city were feeling the pinch. Increased operating costs for hoteliers, including higher property tax, water and electrical bills, have made the situation even more dire. But Mark Feldman, CEO of Zion Tours, said the situation could be much worse. January, he said, was usually a slow month even under the best conditions, so the losses as a result of apprehensive would-be tourists were not as serious as they were during the Second Lebanon War, which scared tourists away during the peak summer tourist season. "We haven't had any group cancellations whatsoever," he explained. "The problem is we're not getting new bookings. A lot of people are sort of sitting on the fence, due to many factors." Feldman said he didn't think that the worldwide economic crisis was a factor, but that rumors of a second, northern, front being opened in the current conflict was. But if tourists to Israel were sitting on the fence, Israeli tourists were voting with their feet when it came to visiting Turkey. "There is an incredible amount of anger within the Israeli public about what transpired in Turkey recently," said Feldman. "People are voting with their feet and refusing to fly to Turkey, and are - and this was more of a surprise - refusing to fly Turkish Airlines. They see it as a national carrier, and without hearing an apology from the government of Turkey, they are not willing to use it." Feldman said he has had customers looking for low-cost flights to Europe tell him specifically not to book them on Turkish Air.