The number of Israeli tourists visiting Turkey has plunged by a record 60.5 percent in the first five months of the year, following Ankara’s fierce criticism of Israel’s war on the Gaza Strip, official data showed Wednesday.
Turkey attracted only 64,200 tourists from the Jewish state from January to May, compared to 162,600 in the same period last year, the tourism ministry said.
A total of 558,200 Israelis travelled to Turkey in 2008, making it their favorite destination for holidays.
The Davos Spat
The drastic decline was blamed largely on Ankara’s almost daily criticism of Israel during the Jewish state’s assault on Gaza in late December and January that left more than 1,300 Palestinians dead.
The tensions climaxed in a public row between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli President Shimon Peres at a high-profile international gathering in Davos, Switzerland.
"The incident at Davos played a determining role in the Israelis’ shunning of Turkey," Timur Bayindir, head of Turkey’s Touristic Hotels and Investors Association, told AFP.
On January 29, Erdogan stormed out from a heated debate about the Gaza war at the World Economic Forum in Davos, after accusing Israel of "barbarian" acts and telling Peres that "you know well how to kill people."
His reaction was unprecedented for Turkey, a predominantly Muslim but non-Arab country which has been Israel’s chief regional ally since the two signed a military cooperation deal in 1996.
Daniel Zimet, head of Zimet Marketing Communications, which handles the promotion of Turkey in Israel, said that country’s powerful trade unions had introduced a virtual boycott in holidays they organized for workers.
"The unions normally decide in January on the destinations, and this year it coincided with Davos," he said. "Turkey was simply erased from the catalogues."
According to the Turkish hoteliers’ federation, union-organized trips account for nearly half of Israeli tourist arrivals in Turkey. In their favorite region, the resorts of southern Antalya, the drop is 75 percent.
The hotel federation staged a campaign of promotion in Tel Aviv last month, and one of its officials, Gurel Aydin, said the trade union stance was beginning to weaken.
"We hope to end the season with a 50 percent fall, while next year I hope the problem will be over," he said.