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During a period that's usually the annual lowpoint in tourist traffic, Jerusalem bustled with the activity of 420,000 visitors. Over the past three weekends, an off-season flood of travellers and city residents filled the Jerusalem as part of Hamshushalayim, a cultural festival celebrating life in Israel's capital.
Working with a budget of NIS 700,000, the Jerusalem tourism authority achieved what one spokesperson called a "great success" with the event, which highlighted city history and museums and inspired a sizable increase in tourism from other parts of Israel.
"The numbers show that people all over the country understood that something big was happening in Jerusalem, and that they should come and see," said tourism authority spokesperson Tal Marom Malovec.
Hotels in the city enjoyed a noticeable boost in occupancy rates, with many filling all their rooms during the Hamshushalayim weekends. Yehuda Ben Baruch, the reception manager at the Eldan Hotel, reported a six percent increase in occupancy over the festival's second two weekends, with city hotels overall filling between 80 and 90 percent of their rooms.
Growing numbers of visitors arrived in Jerusalem during each of the events three weekends. Hamshushalayim's first weekend attracted 100,000 visitors and Jerusalem residents, while the following weekends drew 150,000 and 170,000 participants, respectively.
Beyond the raw numbers, city officials were pleased with the event's ability to draw people from around Israel. Half the festival-goers during Hamshushalayim's first weekend came from outside the city, a proportion that rose to 80 percent by the third weekend.
Marom Malovec said the municipality plans to host Hamshushalayim again next year during roughly the same period, and that the festival would be expanded in response to strong turnout in its inaugural year. Most hotels declined to offer discounts and other Hamshushalayim-related deals recommended by the municipality, but, she added, "next year we hope more than half" the hotels will take part.
With international tourism strongly rebounding following the decrease in local violence, Hamshushalayim proved that Jerusalem can be a draw for Israelis too. The number of visitors during the summer - the peak travel season - rose to roughly one million this year, and the municipality "wanted to contribute to this momentum" with Hamshushalayim. "We hope to make it a tradition," said Marom Malovec.