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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Despite the release of statistics from the Tourism Ministry this week showing a 24% increase in travel to Israel, the tourism industry is taking precautions in light of the clashes that have followed US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital a week ago.
The ministry reported a figure of 3.3 million tourists since January, compared to last year’s 2.6 million visitors.
The Central Bureau of Statistics has reported 355,900 tourist entries for November, bringing a revenue of some $487 million.
But tour guides are detecting signs of a downturn.
“We are getting a lot of cancellations for December, which is one of our peak times. Israelis and Palestinians will suffer from this,” Jerusalem-based tour guide Michal Granot told The Jerusalem Post
However, Daniela Epstein, the director of the German-speaking department at Sar-El tours – a large tour operating company accommodating mostly to Christian tour groups – told the Post that so far nobody has canceled their trips. “If anything, people are just calling and asking questions, but business is going well, people are coming to Israel, things are safe and the clients are satisfied with [the] tours,” Epstein said.
Doubling down on security precautions, larger groups are starting to plan ahead.
Birthright Israel sees some 50,000 participants each year and boasts a flawless record for their tight security measures over the past 18 years of operation.
In a statement released to the Post on Monday, Birthright Israel said: “Trip itineraries are approved daily with the ‘Situation Monitoring Room,’ administered by the Israel Ministry of Education, and coordinated with the IDF, Israel Police and other security authorities. If at any time an area of friction is identified, we do not hesitate to make changes to our itineraries as needed.”
Masa Israel is also taking steps to avoid any incidents, telling the Post: “All of our program organizers have been requested to increase alertness, and refresh security guidelines with participants and staff, and to refrain from visits to east Jerusalem and the West Bank, until there is a better picture of the situation.”
The US embassy is issuing warnings to Americans visiting the country as well as for government employees in both the consulate and the embassy.
A security message for US citizens that has been updated on the embassy’s website since December 8 said: “The US Consulate-General in Jerusalem advises US citizens in, or considering travel to, Jerusalem, the West Bank or Gaza to maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness in light of the current environment. Individuals and groups opposed to the recent announcement that the US government recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and plans to relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem may target US government facilities, US private interests and US citizens.”
The message extends to US government employees as well, prohibiting personal travel to “Jerusalem’s Old City and in the West Bank, to include Jericho and Bethlehem.”
It continued: “This includes portions of routes 1, 443 and 90 that pass through the West Bank, and the immediate vicinity of the Old City and its gates. In addition to these restrictions, US government employees and their family members in Jerusalem have been instructed to avoid nonessential movements and events that attract attention in the city.”
To add context to how news of violence can hurt tourism, visitors during Operation Protective Edge in 2014 numbered 164,100 in August compared to the same month in 2017 when the figure reached 253,800.