A group of kippah wearing young Israelis who spoke to an INN reporter at Ben Gurion airport this past Monday told how they abruptly switched their post-high school trekking plans from a hike in the hills of Turkey to a tour of Bulgaria instead. Israelis have dropped Turkey as a hot tourist destination, and the former Middle Eastern ally is beginning to feel the pinch.
According to a report published Wednesday in Turkey's English Daily News, some 50,000 Israelis have canceled their summer reservations “indefinitely.” The Israel Travel Agents' Association added to the figure, announcing 100,000 cancellations.
Israelis began avoiding Turkey as a tourist destination as early as last year in response to repeated insults by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan following Operation Cast Lead, the 2008-2009 winter war against Hamas terrorists in Gaza.
Eventually, some of the diplomatic fallout was healed – enough so that Israel's El Al Airlines resumed daily flights to Istanbul this past April – but the fragile progress was again destroyed when Ankara helped sponsor a six-ship flotilla sent to break Israel's sovereignty over Gaza waters.
At least one of the vessels was manned by armed terrorists linked to the Turkish IHH organization, posing as “peace activists.” The terrorists ambushed Israeli Navy commandos who boarded the ships after they refused to change course when directed to head for Ashdod port. Subsequent violent demonstrations and cancellation of military contracts by Turkey led to reciprocal actions by Israelis, who quickly responded by canceling vacation plans and putting off the launch of new flights to Istanbul.
All told, the current figures add up to a loss of at least $400 million in tourism dollars for the Turkish economy. The publication quoted Levantin Tour operator Levent Guner, who pointed out, “An Israeli tourist spends $650 on average. The number of tourists spending that much money [here] is very low. Some tourism agencies have gone bankrupt due to this situation.” He added that of the 17,000 Israelis his firm had expected to bring to Turkey this year, the company only managed to entice 200 tourists to visit the country.
Turkey's Coup de Grace is Israel's 'Carpe Diem'
Israel's Ministry of Tourism, meanwhile, is seizing the opportunity to encourage tourism at home. The Ministry announced Wednesday that next week it will launch a sparkling new two-week, $1 million campaign to “Especially Now, Spend Your Vacation in Israel!”
The campaign, to be splashed on to billboards, television screens, Internet web sites and on radio waves across the country, will feature information about all the various tourist attractions and special deals that are available to Israelis this summer, including special events and routine sites of interest such as amusement parks, water parks, national parks and nature reserves.
A domestic travel survey conducted in March by the Geocartography Institute showed a 52 percent rise in the number of Israelis who have decided to spend their vacations in their own country this year. Of those, some 35 percent had decided to travel south to Eilat, 36 percent were heading to points north, and 15 percent were spending their free time at the Dead Sea.