Worshipers at Western Wall for priestly blessing.
(photo credit: ISRAEL GALIS)
Despite trepidations of a pronounced lull in tourism during the country’s peak travel season of Passover and Easter, the Tourism Ministry said on Monday that the number of international visitors during the April holidays far exceeded expectations.
Noting that Operation Protective Edge resulted in the net loss of approximately 300,000 visitors last year, the ministry’s deputy director general, Ahuva Zaken, said the influx of roughly 130,000 tourists during the holidays represented a major triumph for the country.
“The fact that Israel went through a really tough time during the summer had a big effect on traffic coming here,” said Zaken. “But since the beginning of 2015, in spite of the crisis, the numbers have come back.”
Indeed, according to Zaken, April’s numbers matched last year’s holiday influx, marking a return to normality.
“This is very good news for us, because we were worried about not being able to close the gap that we had due to the war,” she said. “We were worried it would take us longer to rebuild tourism to the same numbers we had last year.”
Zaken said Passover and Easter are the most densely traveled times in the country all year, resulting in an infusion of much-need capital following months of heavy losses. Accordingly, she said ministry officials working in 20 offices in the US, Europe, China, and Russia had to work extra hard to ensure trips were booked.
“They had to do a lot of extra activities to preserve the special connections they have with Jewish and Christian organizations all over the world in order to keep the good relationships and let people know that Israel is still open for business,” she said.
“We are very optimistic, because we see the traffic coming back bit by bit,” Zaken continued. “Every month we can see an increase in statistics showing the number of hotel rooms booked.”
While Zaken said the official number for hotel reservations and money injected into the economy will not be released until later this month, she said approximately 1 million international and local visitors descended upon the Old City during Holy Week alone.
“We had more than 500 visitors a day going to the tourist office at Jaffa Gate during the holidays, which is a very high number,” she said.
Moreover, Zaken said over 1.5 m. international and local visitors came to the country’s numerous national parks.
Apart from parks and the Old City, she said the Golan and Dead Sea areas were most-heavily visited, resulting in nearly 100 percent hotel occupancy rates.
Zaken added that international visitors – primarily from the US, Russia, Ukraine, Germany, Spain, Italy, and Britain – spend an average of $1,500 during their time in the country on hotel rooms, dining, tours, entertainment, and souvenirs.
“This is definitely positive and encouraging,” she said.
“It’s giving us inspiration to continue all our promotion activities.”
Indeed, Zaken said she hopes that the strong April showing will be a harbinger of growth for the remaining of the year.
“We are hoping that 2015 will be a record year, attracting more than 4 million people,” she said. “That would be very good for Israel.”