Sharp fall in Israeli tourism to Turkey

The number of Israeli visitors taking trips to Turkey has fallen sharply following a deadly Israeli raid on Gaza-bound aid ships which shattered bilateral ties in June.

Numbers have fallen by 90 per cent, according to official data, with just 2,605 Israeli citizens visiting Turkey in June 2010.

This compared to 27,289 in June last year.

The Turkish tourism ministry added 75,071 Israelis came to Turkey in the first six months of the year, down 17.9 percent from the 91,450 who travelled over the same period in 2009.

The drastic decline has been attributed to an attack on an aid flotilla – carrying a Turkish flag – earlier this year during an attempt to break the blockade of Gaza.

During the attack Israeli commandos killed eight Turks and one American of Turkish descent.

The incident hit already fragile Turkish-Israeli ties, prompting Ankara to recall its ambassador and cancel joint war games with its one-time ally.

As Turks took to the streets in almost daily protests, Israel urged citizens on May 31st to avoid traveling to Turkey.

Although this warning was subsequently withdraw, many Israelis evidently heeded the call.

Although Turkey and Israel built a strong alliance after a 1996 military cooperation deal, their relationship soured after sharp criticism from Ankara over Israel’s devastating war on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009.

The strain was reflected in 2009 tourism figures when only 311,582 Israeli tourists visited Turkey, compared to 558,183 in 2008, marking a decrease of 44.1 per cent.

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Turkish Victory

Falling visitor numbers are, however, being portrayed as a victory in Turkey.

In an interview with Turkish daily newspaper Zaman, Turkish tourism minister Ertugrul Gunay said the Gaza flotilla crisis increased tourist revenues within the country, with many Middle Eastern tourists purchasing Turkey holidays in June.

“Turkey has stabilised its tourism industry consistently,” he told the newspaper.

“The industry’s ten per cent growth this year, is higher than the world average, steadily continues.”

The chairmen of the Federation of Turkish Hoteliers Seçim Aydin supported this view, claiming that for every Israeli to cancel after the flotilla raid, hotels saw “double the number of reservations” from neighbouring Middle Eastern countries.

“People choose to come to Turkey because of the hospitality, cultural values and various resort choices, offered at a reasonable price.

“The decrease in the number of Israeli visitors led to an increase in the number of visitors from neighbouring countries,” he concluded.