Israelis ambivalent about Turkey trips

With a steep decline in Israeli visitors, the Turkish tourism industry is trying to keep Israelis coming.

turkey siam antalya 248.88 (photo credit: Matt Zalen)
turkey siam antalya 248.88
(photo credit: Matt Zalen)
Following the harsh criticism made by Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan about the Gaza campaign, Israelis are divided about whether to travel to Turkey. With a steep decline in Israeli visitors, the Turkish tourism industry is trying to keep Israelis coming, offering vastly discounted deals. Some of these deals have already succeeded in attracting Israelis to give Turkey another chance. A vastly discounted package for February 19 to Anatalya offered by Holiday Lines - a three-night stay in a luxury hotel plus the round-trip flight for about $250 - sold out, and the company has added another flight. Turkish Ambassador Namik Tan said some 550,000 Israeli tourists came to Turkey last year. Turkey was a place where Israelis felt comfortable, he said, because they have the same culture and climate. Israelis also experience the warmth of the Turkish people and get a sense of the "deep culture and hospitality" of Turkey, he said. But despite Tan's optimism and the attractive deals, some Israelis are changing their travel plans. A survey of some 30 Israelis surveyed at Ben-Gurion Airport by The Jerusalem Post showed that the majority were not going to Turkey. Isachar Bar-Hillel, 60, has traveled to Turkey 15 times, visiting Anatalya and Istanbul, but is adamant he would never go there again. "No Turkey, never," he said. "We were in Turkey a lot of times, not anymore." "The prime minister was against Israel," Bar-Hillel said. "He has to ask the Arabs to come to Turkey; he has to ask Hamas." A promotion was being offered to Anatalya for four days and three nights for $199, with a stay in a five-star hotel. But Bar-Hillel was not interested. "Even if it would be free, I would not go," he said. Instead, he plans to go to Greece. Monica Aharonoff, 41, said she visited Anatalya last summer, but would not go there now unless the Turkish government was less prejudiced against Israel. "The prime minister spoke against Israel and didn't try to see both sides," she said. Aharonoff might travel to Barcelona instead. Tsipi Benyechiel, 40, said she was in the country three times and visited Anatalya, but did not plan to travel there now. "The Turkish people, they don't like us," Benyechiel said. "Today it's dangerous for the Israeli people." "Now I will go to Eilat. We have a lovely country," she said. But some Israelis said they would travel to Anatalya and other Turkish cities anyway. Esther Tjepkema, 29, said she went there five years ago and was not afraid to go back. "Turkey's always been quite good," she said. "Every place in the world, there's always something." Tjepkema said she might travel there in the summer. Regis Hosennen, 37, visited Istanbul three times and said he would go again. "I'm not afraid," he said, "It's a very beautiful place. You feel comfortable there." There are still trips to Anatalya available for $199 in February, but these were subject to change, travel agents said. Prices now range between $200 to almost $500. Meirav Sela, an agent from Ofakim Travel & Touring Agency, said Israelis were booking trips to Eilat now. She said it was low season for people traveling to Turkey, as they usually do so in summer. "By the summer, everyone will forget the problems and go to Turkey,' Sela said. Israeli airline Sun d'Or will have charter and regular flights to Anatalya beginning March 15, said Sun d'Or spokesman Eytan Loewenstein. But Eitan Shatz of MANO Maritime Ltd. said this year's schedule for cruises beginning in April did not include Turkey, which had been a stop in previous years.