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Tourists cancellations are gathering steam for the High Holidays as the war in the North continues, sparking fears by industry professionals that it could take up to a year-and-a-half for tourism to recover.
"We are currently preparing for the day after and see that the sooner the war will finish the shorter its effects [on the industry] will be," Tova Pinto, director general of the Israel Hotels Association told The Jerusalem Post Thursday.
"We were having one of the best seasons ever [before the fighting started] and were planning for 2.4 million tourists by the end of the year. We now feel it will take six to 18 months to reach the same growth levels that we were experiencing."
The Israel Incoming Tour Operator Association (IITOA) reported that travel agents have seen a 20% drop in bookings made in August and September and are expecting turnover to drop by around $180 million in the second half of the year.
In light of this, the industry is working with the government to embark on a major marketing campaign once the war is over to encourage tourists in every market segment to help shorten the recovery period and travel agencies have appealed to the Finance and Tourism Ministries to make available some NIS 30 million for marketing purposes.
Ami Etgar, general manager of the IITOA, nevertheless, remained optimistic about the industry's ability to recover and said he expects tourist arrivals to return to the normal levels by around April if the war ends in the next few weeks.
Many in the industry believe this to be an unlikely scenario, however, as the major concern remains the lack of new reservations.
"The drop in new bookings is drastic, it's been terrible," said Miriam Saalkind, customer services manager at New York-based Do- All Travel, which does extensive Israel bookings. "While the major cancellations have been for August, the Jewish Holiday season is also now being affected."
Similarly, a spokesperson for IHA said earlier this week the hotels were seeing cancellations for the Chagim and into November.
And while hotel occupancies had a slight spurt this week as residents from the North continued to be accommodated temporarily around the country, the question about what will be in the coming weeks remains as strong as ever.
"This week the hotels are full partially with tourists and partially with the residents of the North," IHA's Pinto said. "This won't last long though and we are afraid we might face a crisis."