(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Asian tourism to Israel spiked during the first five months of this year, compared with the same period in 2015; modestly grew from the US; and dropped precipitously from Russia due to ongoing economic woes, the Tourism Ministry said on Wednesday.
The ministry’s most recent data, from January to May of this year, showed a whopping 140 percent increase of tourists from Taiwan (700 in 2016 compared to 292 in 2015), a 40% increase from China (3,060 compared with 2,131), and a 33% increase from Singapore (643 compared with 484).
However, in what appears to be a statistical anomaly, visits from Japan fell 41%, with 700 tourists this year, compared with 1,221 last year. Still, tourism from India increased 20%, to 1,679 from 1,396.
Ministry spokeswoman Anat Shihor Aronson said relatively new markets, like India and China, have great potential for Israel.
“We’re very much encouraged by this increase in the Far East,” she said, noting that as of March, Hainan Airlines, the largest private airline in China, now offers direct service from Beijing to Ben-Gurion Airport, which has helped improve numbers.
Tourism from the United States, Israel’s largest market, rose a modest 5%, with 57,385 people visiting this year, compared to 54,640 during the same period in 2015.
Meanwhile, Russia, the country’s second-largest market for tourists, dropped 30% this year to 15,961, compared to 22,884 the preceding year, she said.
“What we see is that the economic situation and currency crisis in Russia has impacted tourism to Israel,” Shihor Aronson said, adding that Russian tourism has also unilaterally dropped globally.
“Many countries, such as Turkey and Greece, are also suffering from a decrease in Russia,” she said.
While statistics delineating where tourists visited are not yet available for this year, in 2015 she said that among the 3.1 million tourists, 77% visited Jerusalem; 70% visited Tel Aviv; 50% went to the Dead Sea; 35% went to Tiberias and Sea of Galilee; 30% went to Bethlehem; 27% visited Nazareth; 24% went to Haifa; and 17% visited Jericho.
In Jerusalem, 68% of tourists visited the Western Wall; 65% visited the Jewish Quarter; 63% visited the Christian Quarter’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and 46% visited the Via Dolorosa.
Among all tourists to Israel, 69% came independently, 24% came on an organized tour, and 50% came to the country for the first time.
Noting that terrorism has become a global epidemic, Tourism Ministry director- general Amir Halevi said Israel is no longer alone in its struggle. “We see that the entire world is facing a new geo-political reality,” said Halevi. “Terrorism has reached places once considered safe tourism destinations.”
Halevi added that the ministry has garnered an unprecedented budget for overseas marketing this year, which has been aided by increased flight capacity thanks to the open skies policy and Tourism Ministry incentives for Eilat winter flights.