Will haredi kosher vacations to Turkey solve tourism crisis?
Initiative to bring religious, haredi public to Antalya for Passover holiday poses solution for recent decline in Israeli tourism to Turkey. All-inclusive kosher packages include specially imported food, separate pool, sauna time slots for women and men
"There are times of political difficulty, but even then one must not forget the history and strong ties between Turkey and Israel. We are all the sons of Abraham and tourism is the ambassador of peace," Ajar said.
The journalists' trip was arranged on the backdrop of frigid relations between the two governments, a 30% decrease in Turkey-bound tourism from Israel, and the recent workers unions' travel boycott.
Although Israelis constitute only 3% of Turkish tourism, the Turkish government was not going to give up on them without a fight.
While meeting with the journalists, Ajar declined to comment on Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's recent remarks on Israel and instead reaffirmed Ataturk's peaceful legacy and talked about the safety in Antalya, which is the Israeli tourist's favorite travel destination in Turkey.
Ajar avoided answering questions vis-à-vis the political tensions between Ankara and Jerusalem, but stressed that the Turkish people will continue to welcome Israeli tourists without "prejudice."
Ajar reminded the religious media that Jews are allowed to bring kosher food into Turkey, and said that the Turkish government stands behind his call to renew Israeli tourism to Antalya, in hopes that the new year will bring with it renewed tourism – like in years past.
Aharon Lipner, who headed the delegation and owns Club Kosher tourism agency, said he sees potential for kosher tourism in Turkey.
Lipner rented Kemer Resort Hotel for the upcoming Passover holiday, and initiated the effort of bringing religious media people to Antalya, so that the religious public "will see that it's safe here – people do not shoot each other on the streets."
But what are the odds the religious sector will cancel its boycott on Turkey and sing 'Next year in Jerusalem!' while in Kemer?
Lipner said he believes that religious, secular and even haredi Jews will attend an "all inclusive kosher" Passover vacation in Turkey, and noted that the attractive price – 30% less than holiday packages in Israel during the same period – will surely add another incentive.
A senior haredi media source told Ynet that this sort of vacation is tailor-made for "haredi-light" people, which he explained was a new stream that developed in recent years and includes some 10% of the haredi population.
According to the source, this new group includes both Lithuanian and Hasidic Jews who are not bothered by having a television set in the hotel room, speak freely with women, dress up in brand-names and have consumption patterns that are similar to the religious public at large.
A few days before Passover, Lipner will receive the vacant hotel and begin a special process of koshering with the help of a special team that will arrive from Israel.
The strictly kosher food will be flown-in especially and prepared by Israeli chefs and the Turkish hosts will receive special training in Shabbat and holiday regulations. "The hotel staff will not eat leavened food and will maintain the religious atmosphere," said Lipner.
How do you transform a Turkish resort club to a modest, strictly kosher hotel? It's not an easy mission; the pools, Jacuzzis and saunas will hold separate time slots for men and women, while cantors will lead prayers and daily classes in the synagogues.
As part of the complex koshering process, all the hotel faucets will be replaced with manual ones, and non-Jew staff members will stand in the hallways during Shabbat and holidays, including all throughout the night, in order to open the hotel-room doors for guests – so that they avoid using the magnetic key.
Now only one question remains- will the Israelis manage to put Erdogan aside and come spend Passover in Turkey?