Religious tours for Russians from Turkey to Israel restart
ANTALYA - Doğan News Agency
Al-Aqsa Mosque, a holiest site in Islam which is located in the Old City of Jerusalem is seen. While the Chrisitan tourist visiting Turkey goes to Israel to see sacred places like Wailling Wall, Muslims also join tours to visit Al-Aqsa. AFP photoThe Israel-Turkey thaw has not only encouraged Israeli holidaymakers to return to Turkey, but has also revived the demand among European – particularly Russian – tourists for one-day religious visits to Jerusalem during their holiday in Turkey.
“The demands for the [one-day] tours [from Turkey to Israel] which have fallen due to ‘One Minute’ and ‘Mavi Marmara’ crises have rebounded after Netanyahu’s apology,” said Nejdet Alacan, the chairman of Belmondo Travel, one of the agencies bringing the highest number of Israeli tourists to Turkey.
The tours that Alacan was talking about are one-day Jerusalem visits for tourists – who are mostly Christians from Russia or Muslims from Kazakhstan – during their vacation in Turkey as the distance between Israel and Turkey is relatively short.
The planes carrying religious tourists to Israel pick up Israeli vacationers to Turkey on their way back to eliminate high costs. The falling number of Israeli tourists had caused the number of flights to plummet, hitting the religious visits as well.
As a result, the demand for these tours also plummeted during the souring of relations between Turkey and Israel with two blows. The first beat came with the first political dispute between the countries aroused during Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s “One Minute” retort in Davos. The second, and the death blow, was Israel’s raid of the Mavi Marmara ship, which was carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza on 2010.
In the aftermath of the incident, Turkey froze its diplomatic ties with Israel after the latter refused to issue a formal apology.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s formal apology to Turkey has rekindled the demand, says Alacan.
In the tours, the tourists go to Israel to visit sacred places like the Wailing Wall, from Antalya with a morning flight and return to their hotels in Turkey after midnight.
“The Muslims coming from Kazakhistan and around also visit Al-Aqsa Mosque,” Alacan said.
Turkey hopes to win back Israeli tourists amid recovering relations between the two countries, as the tourism sector was hardest hit by souring relations despite trade ties having continued to thrive.