There have been many recent reports on a consumer boycott in Israel against vacationing in Turkey, traditionally a popular destination during the Passover holiday. It seems, however, that more Arab Israelis than ever are traveling to Turkey following a set of Turkish soap operas aired in Israel that are particularly popular in the sector.
With estimates that Israelis have largely forgotten about various calls to stay away from Turkish vacation packages and reports of "business as usual", not enough light has been shed on Arab Israeli vacation choices. It seems they are traveling to the neighboring country more than ever.
One of the main reasons for Arab Israelis' preference for Turkey is economic. With high rates of unemployment and poverty in the sector, many seek out relatively inexpensive vacation deals.
"The Arabs turn to Turkey because of the low prices, because there are good brands there, and because they get good value for their money," said manager of Nazarine Tours, Ghanem Abu Seif to Ynet.
Bodrum. 'Arabs seeking value for money' (Photos: Mohammad Udi)
The boycotting atmosphere among the Israeli Jewish vacationers is not of much interest to Arab vacationers, for whom the accusations slung at Israel by the leadership in Ankara are not necessarily seen as a bad thing.
"Some 70% of the flights that we take care of are to Turkey," said to Ynet a travel agency in the central region with a large Arab customer base.
In a conversation with Ynet, Imad Ziyadah from Neto Tours said that 90% of his Arab customers fly to Turkey.
Buying pretty clothes like on TV
Beyond value-for-money, Turkey's popularity as vacation spot among Israeli Arabs has other explanations. One travel agency in the north told us that Turkish soap operas, which have become a real trend in Arab society, are spurring interest in Turkey as they have exposed Arab Israelis to Turkish lifestyles and prompted a sense of closeness to the Turkish people.
Many travelers go to see the houses in which the television shows were filmed and to eat in the restaurants visited by the shows' heroes. Many are attracted to Turkey in order to buy the clothes they see worn on the television shows at a relatively low price.
Many tourists following in footsteps of soap opera stars
Two Turkish soap operas that received particularly high ratings are "Noor" and "The Lost Years." The two shows, Noor in particular, have garnered quiet a following amongst Arab teens, who avidly follow the love stories and courtships on the show.
"Arabs feel that despite the geographic difference, there is a closeness and similarity between them and the Turks in terms of social norms, culture, and tradition," explained one of the employees in the northern travel agency.
Warm welcome despite Erdogan
The travel agencies interviewed for this article indicated an additional element attracting the Israeli Arab vacationer to Turkey. According to them, they are received with particular warmth in Turkey because they are Arabs.
Udi. 'I didn't hear of problems from tourists traveling with me'
Many Arab satisfied Arab tourists return to Israel full of praises for the hospitality, reception, and warmth they received during their vacation. They report back on good service, special benefits in stores and discounts.
Toperator Mohammad Udi from Nazarine Tours told Ynet that to the best of his knowledge, the Turks are not influenced by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan's statements against Israel, and instead are mainly interested in attracting tourism to Turkey and improving their economic status.
"As a tour guide who travels a lot to Turkey with groups of Jews and Arabs, I did not encounter any problem with the Turks. Nor did I hear of tourists who were with me who encountered any problems or mistreatment from the Turks," said Udi.
Etti Simchi, of Diesenhaus-Unitours, indicated another trend among Arab Israeli vacation habits: "In recent years, we have witnessed a broad trend of customers form the Arab sector electing to spend their holidays outside the traditional home setting, but instead in hotels in Israel – mainly in Eilat – or in Turkey."