The Turkish travel industry is feeling the backlash over Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s attack on Israel at the Davos conference.
Thousands of Israeli tourists who usually come to Bodrum for the Pesach holiday have canceled their flights, tourism sector sources told Hurriyet News.
“Tourism sector members are frustrated by the cancellations of nearly 10,000 Israeli tourists who usually come to Bodrum as soon as the season starts,” the news site reported.
About 40 flights from Israel to Turkey have been nixed. This year, Israeli tourists have begun to prefer Crete Island and the Black Sea resort of Varna, Bulgaria, for spending the holiday.
Cancellations "come as a shock"
Relations between the two countries were strained when Erdoğan stormed off the stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on January 29, after sparring verbally with Israeli President Shimon Peres. Erdogan charged Israel with "barbaric" actions in Gaza. "When it comes to killing, you know well how to kill," Erdogan shouted as he walked out.
The declines in reservations “come as a shock,” the Turkish news site reported. "After the Davos incident we thought there would not be a sharp decline, but the developments in the last few weeks are a shock," Yüksel Aslan, Aegean region director of the Flying Carpet tour operator told Hurriyet. "So we are paying the price for Erdoğan’s anger," said Aslan. "We brought 5,734 Israeli tourists to Turkey in the same period last year. But there are only 15 bookings from Israel for April right now. Forty flights to Turkey were canceled and the number of flights at the same time to Crete and Varna rose from four to 10," he said.
Top hotels affected
The cancellations also affected many four- and five-star hotels. Majesty Club Belizia Hotel, with 250 personnel, expects a 70 percent decline in income from Israeli tourists, which stood at $1.3 million last year, according to its managing director, Ülkay Atmaca.
“Due to the cancellations, we gave up on opening the season and were forced to lay off personnel," said Atmaca. "While the world is struggling with the global crisis, we have created our own crisis," he said.
Making it clear where he thought the blame lay, Ülkay added: "The contribution of the Israeli tourists was not only to the tourism sector. They also help the economy in Bodrum. Officials should act more responsibly.”
Emir Bağ, chairman of Bodrum Hotel and Tourist Facility Administrations Association, said: "No matter how hard we try to attract the attention of foreign tourists through participating in international tourism fairs, a diplomatic problem can ruin everything. The Davos incident caused many hotels to close their doors before even opening them. We hope that we have learned our lesson from such mistakes."
A Facebook group calling for a boycott of Turkey (Embargo on Turkey), created by Israelis after Erdogan’s outburst, has more than 5,200 members.
The group’s founder called Turkey “a hypocritical country.” Besides quoting from Erdoğan’s anti-Israeli rhetoric, he mentioned a basketball game in which Turkish fans attacked Israel players. “As tourists,” he wrote, “We have great power to affect their economy, so that they feel the pain. Let’s show them that you don’t mess with Jews and Israelis!”