Foreign tourism to Israel dropped to 117,000 in November, some 29 percent below the parallel month of 2005, the Central Bureau of Statistics reported Tuesday as the industry continues to seek ways to boost numbers in the coming years.
"When you have achieved a high of [2.7 million tourists] in 2000, that creates a benchmark which says you can reach it again," Michael Haywood, of Canada-based travel consulting firm The Haywood Group and professor emeritus at the University of Guelth, told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday. "A lot of work needs to be done working with the media to create a presence for Israel as a travel destination, to invest in infrastructure and in other areas to reach that number."
Haywood is on his first visit to Israel this week as a guest of the Israel Hotels Association.
The last day of his visit, on Tuesday, coincided with the CBS report, which said 1.695 million tourists have come to the country so far this year, compared to 1.753 million in the parallel 11 months of 2005.
A separate CBS report showed 215,000 locals traveled abroad in November. Some 191,200 Israelis traveled by air and 22,600 crossed a land border in November, with 8,400 of those making the trip into Egypt , CBS said. For the first 11 months of the year, 3.476 million Israelis traveled abroad, 0.3% less than last year.
The drop in arrivals signals a continuation of the negative trend seen in the industry since the summer war in Lebanon, which reversed the upward swing in tourist arrivals seen in the first half of the year and intensified calls in the industry for a long-term strategy to boost tourism.
Haywood also voiced some concerns about the Ernst & Young report, released last month, which the government has adopted in answer to those calls as the basis for its five-year plan for the industry.
"There were some things I was surprised to find [recommended in the report], in particular that the industry needs to be more price sensitive to attract tourists," Haywood said, explaining that countries attract visitors based on the quality of the experience they are going to get and not primarily on price.
"I think there is a need to improve the overall visitor experience in Israel, which requires an investment in things like hotels and infrastructure but also in softer issues like people skills to create an environment in which tourists are really welcomed," Haywood said. "The investment needs to focus on what tourists want in terms of services and I didn't see that emphasized in the report."
Other issues he felt demanded greater attention from Ernst & Young included the opportunity presented to boost entrepreneurship and small businesses in rural and agricultural tourism and a stronger focus on training and education for the industry over the next five years.