The gradual recovery in visitor arrivals to Israel in recent months is triggering an "unprecedented" demand from entrepreneurs to invest in hotels, the Tourism Ministry said Wednesday.
"Recent visitor arrival figures point to a continued trend of recovery from the economic crisis and there is an unprecedented demand from entrepreneurs to invest in hotels," said Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov. "The trend developing in recent months shown in the response by entrepreneurs and the business sector for investment in hotels in Israel is giving further proof of the belief of entrepreneurs in the local tourism industry and their willingness to invest."
Meseznikov's comments came in response to visitor arrival figures published by the Central Bureau of Statistics on Wednesday, which showed that from July to November of this year numbers dropped by a mere 2 percent year-on-year compared with a decline of 18% in the months March to June and a plunge of 25% in the January to February period. From the beginning of the year to November, 2.5 million visitors entered the country, a decline of 11% compared with the same period last year. In November alone, 251,000 visitors entered the country, 4% less than in the same month last year. Out of the visitor arrivals in November, 206,000 were tourists and 44,000 were one-day visitors.
"The big decline in visitor arrivals in December 2008 and the beginning of the year was probably due to the repercussions of the global financial crisis and a deterioration in the security situation in light of Operation Cast Lead," said economists at the statistics bureau.
Meseznikov said that over recent weeks, 37 entrepreneurs had responded to the ministry's invitation to apply for grants for the establishment of new hotels and the conversion and refurbishment of hotels which had been operated in the past. As part of the ministry's 2009-2010 plan, NIS 300 million have been allocated for incentive grants to encourage the establishment of new hotels and the expansion of current hotels. The ministry added that another NIS 100m. would be allocated to this program depending on demand.
"For the first time, the program makes it possible for entrepreneurs to win a grant and invest in the conversion of buildings previously used as hotels to bring them back to how they were, and in the refurbishment of old hotels," said the ministry. "In addition the program will aim to improve the efficiency of the grant application procedure."
Meseznikov said the ministry would do everything in its power to cut the bureaucracy and improve services for entrepreneurs to encourage them to invest, with the help of grants to reduce risks.
The ministry's policy is to give priority to requests in areas that are already in tourist demand and/or have a shortage of hotel rooms such as Jerusalem, Tiberias, the Kinneret area, Nazareth and Acre.
Separately Meseznikov said Wednesday that he was expecting about 70,000 tourists to head to the town of Jesus' birthplace Bethlehem next week. That's on par with last year's level, despite a worldwide slowdown in tourism.
Bethlehem is located in the West Bank, just outside of Jerusalem. Israeli and Palestinian officials have worked closely in recent years to coordinate the movement of pilgrims.
Although tourism is still off from the peak years of the late 1990s and the 2000 millennium, it has begun to bounce back from troubled years earlier this decade, when heavy fighting between Israelis and Palestinians caused numbers to plummet.
AP contributed to this report.