Despite a negligible contraction in the number of visitors from Israel because of strained relations after the flotilla crisis, Turkey will likely enjoy a boost in its tourism figures, largely owing to the masses flocking from Arab nations, according to Tourism Investors Association (TYD) President Turgut Gür, who has said he expects the number of Arab tourists to reach 1 million this year.
Speaking to reporters in Antalya on Monday, Gür said the reciprocal elimination of visa requirements with a number of Middle Eastern nations and Turkey’s positive image in the region, especially after its harsh reaction against Israel due to the assaults on the flotilla and the Gaza blockade, will increase the amount of Arab tourists visiting the country.
Gür estimated that the southern parts of Turkey in particular will enjoy a large number of visitors from Arab countries. Turkey has agreed to mutually abolish visas with Syria, Jordan and Lebanon in a move that was perceived by many as a step to establishing an EU-like community.
He illustrated what he called the “remarkable interest of Arabs” in Turkey by providing several figures. For instance, the number of Arab tourists visiting Turkey increased by 37 percent in March 2010 over the same month a year ago and by 44 percent in April 2010.
Answering a question on whether there had been a reduction in the flow of Israeli tourists to Turkey after Israel’s recent deadly attack on the aid flotilla, Gür acknowledged that there had been a decrease in the number of Israeli visitors, stating that nearly 50,000 bookings had been cancelled for the season. However, he said, the rise in Turkey’s popularity among Arabs is enough to compensate for the losses. “We expect a total of 30 million tourists to visit Turkey this year. We also estimate profits from the tourism sector to reach about $23 billion,” he stated.
He also said the spread of Turkish soap operas among the Arab population via TV channels in the region had a particular impact on the growing interest and curiosity about Turkey. He said almost everyone was talking about Turkish soap operas when he visited Syria last year.