Israel-Turkey rift end may revive tourism

Israel-Turkey rift end may revive tourism

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Israel-Turkey rift end may revive tourism

Before relations between the two countries began to sour in 2009, Turkish southern provinces were among the top vacation destinations for Israelis. DHA photo

Turkey hopes to win back Israeli tourists amid recovering relations between the two countries, as the tourism sector was the hardest hit by souring relations despite trade ties having continued to thrive.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s formal apology to Turkey over the Mavi Marmara killings of 2010 increased Turkish tourism companies’ expectations to return back to the heyday of Israeli-Turkish tourism ties as they will have more space to promote Turkey as a tourism spot since the political constraints are removed.

The Israeli raid of the ship, which was carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza on 2010, claimed the lives of nine Turks. In the aftermath of the incident, Turkey froze its diplomatic ties with Israel after the latter refused to issue a formal apology.

Yet even though political relations soured further following the incident, bilateral trade continued to do well thanks to business communities that remained committed to economic ties.

The trade volume between the countries increased to a record $4.5 billion in 2011 from $3.4
billion in 2010 and despite a fall to around $4 billion last year, overall, the trade posted a substantial rise.

On the contrary, tourism between the two countries decreased since the incident, and in 2011 the number of Israeli tourists visiting Turkey dropped sharply to 79,140, down from around a half million in 2008, according to data obtained by Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics.

Marketing enabled

The first blow to Israeli tourism in Turkey came with the first political dispute between the countries aroused during Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s “One Minute” retort in Davos. After the incident, the number of Israeli tourists visiting the country plummeted to around 310,000. The recent olive branch the Israeli government held out to Turkey has gotten tourism hopes up of recapturing the former levels.

“The moderation process might have annihilated the [political] drawbacks of the Israeli people and it will affect tourism positively,” the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies chairman Başaran Ulusoy told daily Milliyet.

He said as tourism sector representatives, they will follow the footsteps of the government and act parallel to the political reconciliation process. “We will participate in tourism fairs that Tourism Minister Ömer Çelik finds proper,” he said.

“If the tensions didn’t occur, we would have reached 1 million [Israeli tourists] but now the figures prior to the political dispute can be easily captured,” Turkish Hoteliers Federation Chairman Osman Ayık said.

 Hoteliers didn’t dare to undertake any marketing operations to re-attract Israeli tourist during the poor relations, but as the moderation process has begun, the marketing will start as well, he said. Another hotelier, Chairman of the Touristic Hotels & Investors Association (TUROB) Timur Bayındır, also said that before the deteriorating relations, the association had prepared a project to gather five prominent tourism-strong countries – Turkey, Israel, Greece, Jordan and Egypt – but it had been forced to stop. Now they will revive the project.

Tourism sector represenatives are not the only ones awating Israeli-Turkish peace as better relations of two offer key energy opportunities. In February, Israel offered to lay a natural gas pipeline through Turkey, but Ankara was reluctant to accept due to ongoing tension between the countries. As now the tension is lifted, the eyes are on governments to see whether there will be any fresh attempt to carry Israeli gas to region via Turkey to sell it Europe.

Israel apology has opened the pave for Turkey to be the champion of energy transportation, International Energy Agency Chief Economist Fatih Birol has told to Anatolia News Agency yesterday.

“Turkey’s poisiton as energy transfer hub will stand on three dimensions: firstly side pipelines of Baku-Tiflisi-Ceyhan pipeline, secondly natural gas pipelines that can be built between Nothern Iraq and Turkey and pipeline routes that can link Israel oil and gas to region,” he said.