Tourism seems stable for holidays, but outlook thereafter is bleak

Industry entering new year with some consolation from foreign visitors, but with little hope for remainder of 2006 as Lebanon war takes its toll.

By AVI KRAWITZ
September 22, 2006 06:18
2 minute read.
Tourism seems stable for holidays, but outlook thereafter is bleak

tsell-harim hotel 88. (photo credit: )

 
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The tourism industry is entering the new year with some consolation of bookings from foreign visitors for the holidays but with little hope for the remainder of 2006, as the effects of the war in Lebanon continue to scar the previously booming industry. "The hagim are looking better for now but the figures are nothing like we had last year," said Ami Etgar, general manager of the Israel Incoming Tour Operators Association. "September was a very bad month for the industry and the general recovery is still going to take time." Israel Hotels Association (IHA) figures confirmed the contrasting trends in the month's run up to the High Holy Days. Jerusalem hotels, which enjoyed high occupancies during the conflict, were between 20 and 25 percent full in September and are expected to increase to 50-60% occupancy in the period between Rosh Hashana and Succot. Tel Aviv is forecast to grow from around 35% this month to 50-60% through the holidays, while the hotels in the Galilee are expected to show the highest occupancies of 80%, after being 35% full in September. Tourism officials attribute the jump to support that Israelis are showing to the North after the region had nearly no visitors throughout the monthlong conflict. "The campaigns in the media marketing the North have influenced people's decisions, as they want to identify with the region," said Zvika Karpel, general manager of the Hebrew travel Web site www.gulliver.co.il. The government and various private and non-profit concerns have embarked on campaigns to encourage local tourism to the North as a means of spurring the industry's recovery. Tiberias hotels alone, an IHA spokesman said, are expecting 60% occupancy this season, having had 30-35% in September. The South (the Dead Sea and Eilat) will grow from 50-60% to 80% in the coming weeks. Karpel said the high level of Israeli travel may also explain the increase in passenger traffic forecast at Ben-Gurion Airport this season. Earlier this week, the Israel Airports Authority (IAA) reported it expects that 720,000 passengers would pass through Terminal-3 between Rosh Hashana and Succot, showing growth of 11% over the parallel period last year. He added, however, that Israelis who canceled their summer travel plans because of the war were not taking their vacations over the holiday season. "The Israeli travel figures over the hagim are the same this year as last, so we are not getting the spillover from the war that we had hoped for," he said. In line with this forecast and despite the IAA figures, the airline industry remains pessimistic. "This year is not a shadow of what we experienced during the hagim in 2005," said one aviation professional who asked to remain anonymous. "Furthermore, the off-peak season is going to be very rough for us all." Last year was a landmark year for tourism, as 1.9 million foreign visitors arrived, an increase of 27% from 2004 and a growth that continued through the first half of 2006. Tourism Ministry figures showed that one million foreign visitors arrived in the first six months of the year, up 22% from the parallel period last year. That figure extended to 1.33 million arrivals by the end of August, as the war slowed the growth to 5%. "We are getting no new bookings for after the hagim," said Mark Feldman, managing director of ZionTours. "While most of our bookings showed up for the hagim, the feeling is that this is the last spurt of tourism we will see for a while."

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