Incoming tourism continues to set records.

In November, 310,000 visitors entered the country, a 23 percent increase over November 2009. Since the beginning of 2010, 3.18 million tourists have visited Israel, with the figure expected to reach 3.45 million by December 31. This represents a 14% increase over 2008’s previous maximum.

Another record broken in November was an all-time high of 2.6 million tourists who stayed in Israel for at least one night. Within the period January-November more people stayed overnight than in all of 2008.

November also saw 438,000 one-day visitors (52% more than in the same month in 2009 and 33% more than in 2008).

Cruise ships brought 151,500 visitors, doubling previous years’ figures.

“The success of the Tourism Ministry’s marketing activities and, as a result, the increase in incoming tourism, has a direct and immediate effect on the creation of thousands of new jobs throughout Israel and the injection of hundreds of millions of dollars into the state coffers,” Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov said.

“Tourists who return home satisfied and full of experiences from their visit become ambassadors for Israel, and their actions join those of the ministry in improving Israel’s image overseas while presenting the country as an attractive, varied and sought-after tourism destination.”

The ministry is currently preparing for the arrival of 90,000 tourists over the Christmas period. The tourists and pilgrims are expected to visit the holy sites and participate in the masses to be held in Bethlehem and Nazareth.

According to its spokeswoman, the Tourism Ministry is working in cooperation with the heads of the Christian communities in Israel, the Israel Police, mayors, the Civil Administration’s Coordination and Liaison Administration, the Palestinian Tourism Authority and other relevant bodies to facilitate a welcoming entry and departure from Israel and a pleasant visiting experience.

“Due to the high volume of tourists expected to pass through Ben-Gurion Airport, and the Allenby and Taba border crossings, the Tourism Ministry is working in cooperation with the Airports Authority to ensure a speedy and comfortable passage for tourists.

Extra brochures and explanatory material in various languages have been delivered to the tourist offices in Jerusalem, Nazareth and Ben-Gurion Airport as well as Rachel’s crossing [to Bethlehem], and additional staff will man these offices over the holiday period,” the spokeswoman said.

The ministry will arrange free shuttle transport for pilgrims from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. The shuttles will leave every hour on the hour from the Mar Elias Monastery for the Church of the Nativity and back.

“Christmas is an excellent opportunity to continue cooperation with the heads of the Christian communities and the millions of believers around the world, tens of thousands of whom are expected to visit the Holy Land in the coming days,” Meseznikov said.

“The Christian community, in its various denominations with hundreds of millions of believers, represents one of the central anchors for incoming tourism to Israel. The Tourism Ministry works with Christian communities in Israel and around the world throughout the year to increase collaboration with opinion formers, community leaders and the faithful who represent a bridge for peace and the opportunity to promote pilgrimage to the Holy Land.”

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