Turkey Back on Israel’s Travel Circuit as Countries Mend Ties

Turkey is back on Israel’s tourism map.

The number of Israelis taking the 90-minute flight to Turkey surged 50 percent in February to 7,600 from a year earlier, the Turkish government reported March 25, as the countries work to mend a rupture over a deadly Israeli raid on a Turkish ship.

“What’s sparking it is the political and diplomatic calm, all the business about the flotilla and the boycott stopped,” Noam Ron, director of marketing at the Tel Aviv-based ISSTA travel agency, said in a phone interview.

After Israeli commandos killed nine Turks in 2010 on a Gaza Strip-bound flotilla, Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador and recalled its own envoy. By 2012, the number of Israeli visitors had plunged to 84,000, from 560,000 in 2008, according to Turkish government data.

Now, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan a year ago for “any mistakes that might have led to the loss of life,” the once-close allies are moving closer to repairing the frayed ties. Officials are working on a financial compensation accord, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said last month.

February’s jump in tourists extends 2013’s gains, when the number of arrivals in Turkey doubled to 180,000, said Ron, whose agency has 45 branches across Israel. The figure may rise to 270,000 this year, he said.

Ambassador Return?

Israel and Turkey have agreed to return their respective ambassadors, Today’s Zaman newspaper in Turkey reported today, without saying how it obtained the information. An Israeli government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter, said he wasn’t aware of any developments.

Israeli forces raided the flotilla in May 2010 to keep it from breaching Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza, ruled by the Hamas group considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and European Union. The Israeli military said its forces opened fire after passengers attacked them with metal rods and knives.

The deadly raid exacerbated fissures that had already emerged over Erdogan’s repeated denunciation of Israel’s 2009 war in the Gaza Strip, which sent him stomping off the stage he shared with Israeli President Shimon Peres at the 2009 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Trade Unions

With the diplomatic climate improved, “we expect the figures to return to the good levels of the past,” Timur Bayindir, president of Turkey’s Tourist Hotels and Investors Association, said of the Israeli arrivals in a phone interview. He said as many as 300,000 Israelis might travel this year to Turkey, which attracted more than 34 million visitors in 2013, according to government statistics.

The political rapprochement is encouraging Israeli trade unions, which can obtain discounted packages for members, to consider lifting their boycott of Turkey, imposed in 2009, according to Jacob Alloush, chief executive at Ve’adim, a company that collects data on unions’ economic and social activities.

Ve’adim’s latest survey showed that 90 percent of unions, representing 1.5 million workers, want to “stop boycotting Turkey if the Turkish government reaches an agreement with Israel,” Alloush said.

Israel “is very much waiting for the reconciliation in order to return,” said Eyal Kashdan, chief executive of the Flying Carpet travel agency. “The Israeli anger was at the politicians, not the people.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Amy Teibel in Jerusalem at ateibel@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net Mark Williams

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