An El Al plane in Ben Gurion Airport.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Despite the tension on Israel’s southern and northern borders over the past year, tourism to the country has continued to soar to new heights.
The Ministry of Tourism announced that a record 2.4 million tourists entered the country from January to July, a 17% increase over the same period last year. In July alone, 293,400 tourists arrived in Israel (8% more than in July 2017) and tourist revenue to Israel totaled an estimated $436 million, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. For those interested in the actual breakdown, 267,200 came by air, 26,200 via land crossings, and 22,700 came as day visitors – all significant increases over the previous year.
“Month after month we are witnessing new achievements and record highs in incoming tourism,” said Tourism Minister Yariv Levin. “I am pleased that last month [July], we also saw an impressive rise in incoming tourism. The marketing efforts and innovative activities that we are implementing, together with the incentives for airlines and investments in infrastructure, are all proving themselves anew each month, as the tourism industry continues to be a significant factor in making exceptional impact and contributions to the Israeli economy and workforce.”
Hotel occupancy was up 2.5% in the first half of 2018, reaching 67.3%, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. Tel Aviv had the highest rate with 76%, followed by Jerusalem (70%), the Dead Sea (69.8%) and Eilat (69.3%). June was the busiest month, with 2.2 million overnight stays, 42% by foreign nationals.
It should be noted that 2017 saw a record 3.6 million tourists visiting Israel, bringing in an estimated NIS 20 billion and providing employment for some 200,000 Israelis who work in the tourism industry, from hotel staff to tour guides. The average tourist spends about $1,600 during his or her stay, excluding airfare, according to the ministry.
Incidentally, the top five countries of origin for tourists were the US, Russia, France, Germany and the UK. Some 54% of the tourists were Christians, a fifth were Jewish and the remainder Muslims and members of other faiths or, what is termed, “non-affiliated.” Interestingly, about 41% said they had already visited Israel.
One reason there has been such a spike in tourism is the fact that at least two dozen new routes opened up from Ben-Gurion International Airport, the latest one being Hainan Airlines’ weekly flight to and from the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, inaugurated on August 2. Just to illustrate the potential of the Chinese market, the new route from Shanghai last year led to a 46% increase in Chinese tourism since 2016, and a 139% increase over 2015.
More airlines are also servicing the city of Eilat (about 50 flights a week), and there is no doubt that tourism to the popular resort city will increase significantly when the recently inaugurated Ilan and Assaf Ramon International Airport officially opens next March.
As we approach Rosh Hashanah on September 3, followed by the Jewish holiday period lasting through Yom Kippur on September 18 and the weeklong festival of Sukkot, which begins on September 24, we are expecting even more tourists to visit Israel than in the past. Another thousand foreign music fans are expected to arrive for September’s three-day Meteor Festival in the North.
Of course, things turn on a dime in this region. We are still in the midst of an on-again, off-again battle with Hamas in the South with no way of knowing if tomorrow will see quiet or rockets on our border with Gaza. And as Anna Ahronheim reported Monday, the IDF is developing innovative tactics to cope with the looming threat from Hezbollah in the North, where fallout from the instability and aggression in Lebanon and Syria are always threatening to boil over into northern Israel.
A safe, calm and secure Israel is paramount to not only the well-being of its citizens but to the flourishing tourism industry. International travelers should be applauded for deciding to make Israel their destination amid a plethora of locations around the world and despite the uncertainty along our borders. They’ve turned this into a banner year for tourism to Israel.
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