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Israeli hoteliers pleased with summer indicators
By RON FRIEDMAN
24/06/2010
Foreign tourism rises by 32% in the last year.
 
May figures showed positive signs for Israel’s hotel industry as it heads into the peak summer months, according to a report released on Wednesday by the Israel Hotel Association (IHA).

The report showed a 32 percent rise in occupancies by foreign tourists compared to May of last year. The relatively slight increase in nightly stays by Israelis (2%) means that the average rose by a total 15%, translating to 1.9 million nightly stays over the course of a month.

A marked increase of 52%, was noted in Jerusalem hotels, where 335,000 people stayed last month, making up a third of all hotel stays in the country.

Sharp increases were experienced in Tel Aviv (33%), Eilat (27%), the Dead Sea (25%), Nazareth (22%) and Kibbutz hostels (26%).

Moderate increases of between 8-15% were registered in Netanya, Haifa, Herzliya and Tiberias.

In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, IHA directorgeneral Shmuel Zuriel expressed satisfaction with the positive figures, but pointed out that the numbers for hotel stays in 2010 were still not back to what they were in 2008 before Operation Cast Lead and the global economic crisis.

“As far as tourist entries are concerned, with 255,000 entrances during May, we’re just about on par, but the similarity in tourist entries does not reflect hotel occupancy numbers,” said Zuriel.

“There we see that we are still 9% below what we were in 2008.”

Zuriel added that there were a number of reasons for the inconsistency between tourist entries and hotel stays, chief among them, the euro meltdown that followed the dollar meltdown, and a noticable shift in the make up of incoming visitors.

“We have to differentiate between day visitors and tourists,” said Zuriel. “Day visitors are people who come to Israel for a single day, without spending a night here.”

These are people who visit Israel for a day as part of their vacations from Egypt and Jordan, or passengers who arrive on cruises.

“In all the cases they visit for a few hours, go to Jerusalem and maybe the Dead Sea and then return to their base the same evening,” Zuriel noted. “Though they make up a formidable number of entries, roughly 50,000 a month, we don’t count them as bona fide tourists.

Their contribution to the Israeli economy is very marginal.”

Although the Tourism Ministry counts them in their monthly reports on tourist entries, they are not included in the IHA’s statistics.

Zuriel also spoke about shifts in behavior patterns among tourists that stay for longer than a day, pointing to a growing trend of tourists that stay for prolonged periods, but don’t use hotel services either. This includes foreign residents who apartments in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Netanya, but don’t live in Israel year round.

“For every person who owns a vacation unit, there is a wide circle of friends and relatives who then use the unit when on vacation,” said Zuriel. “These are people who used to book hotel rooms, but no longer do because they have the opportunity to stay with friends and relatives.”

This, according to Zuriel, equals the loss of roughly 1,000 nightly stays at hotels per month.

Another group consists of people who come to Israel to visit family and friends.

“These people, who make up about 30% of the tourist market, come to Israel knowing that they’ll spend most of the time as house guests of family and friends,” said Zuriel, noting that in the last decade this group has doubled in size.

What hoteliers see as the biggest boom to the industry is the rate of local tourism.

Israel can boast one of the highest rates of local tourism hotel occupancies in the world, with 12 million nightly stays by Israelis choosing to spend their vacations in Israel every year.

Zuriel said that with May numbers of local tourist nightly stays up by 2%, it would be possible that this summer would see hotel overbooking as a major challenge for Israeli tourists.

Zuriel also said that it was as yet too early to determine whether political developments, most significantly the Gaza flotilla affair, would influence the summer tourism activity, but said he considered the injury to Israel’s image to be minor rather than critical.

“We have not recorded mass cancellations of groups or individuals following the flotilla incident and none of the foreign tourism operators have left,” he said.

“The injury to Israel’s image in the eye’s of the international community may make marketing Israel more of a challenge in the future, but we don’t see people canceling their prebooked vacations because of it.”
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