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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israel is on track to welcome more tourists in 2007 than in any year since the start of the second intifada. Barring the outbreak of violence or other surprises, the country should greet a total of 2.3 million tourists by the end of the year, according to figures provided last week by the Tourism Ministry. The number would be the highest annual total for any year since 2000, the busiest year in the history of Israeli tourism, when the country enjoyed the arrival of 2.41 million foreigners.
The surge in visits is raising hopes that 2008 will prove the best year ever for the country's tourism industry, with the Tourism Ministry predicting the arrival of 2.8 million guests next year.
Tourism Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich is using the positive forecasts to lobby for government funding for new hotels, issuing a steady stream of statements in recent weeks warning of shortages in tourist lodging by as early as 2009.
So far, though, hotel capacity is proving sufficient, with January-to-June revenues - which leapt significantly between 2003 and 2006 - staying just about level between this year and last. The first half of 2007 brought in NIS 3.2 billion in total revenues for Israel's hotels, a two percent drop from the same period the previous year. That's slightly below the NIS 3.23 billion (in adjusted terms) collected in the first half of 2000, but well above the revenues from the worst of the intifada, when first-half revenues fell beneath NIS 2 billion.
The lingering gap in tourist arrivals for this year and 2000 can still be seen in hotel revenues: although total revenues are nearly what they were before the outbreak of the intifada, more of the income is being supplied by Israeli vacationers and less by those coming from overseas.
The Central Bureau of Statistics also notes that although hotel revenues stayed virtually level between the first halves of 2006 and 2007, their distribution has differed from city to city. Hotel revenues in Herzliya rose 11 percent between the first half of this year and last, while hotels in Jerusalem registered a six percent drop.
Lufthansa to request
additional TLV flights
The rising numbers haven't gone unnoticed by the airlines, among them Lufthansa, which for the last six years has delivered more passengers than any airline but El Al to Ben-Gurion Airport. The German carrier is now "actively searching" its fleet for a plane to designate for flights between Munich and Tel Aviv, which the company hopes to start next summer. The airline can receive permission to add the flights only after a renegotiation of Germany's current aviation agreement with Israel - a renegotiation the company is likely to request in the near term, said Tal Muscal, the company's press relations adviser in Tel Aviv.
Lufthansa, which currently operates 14 weekly flights to Israel from Frankfurt, flew three flights a week between Munich and Ben-Gurion until May 2003, eliminating the route near the height of the second intifada. The airline battled the Civil Aviation Authority and the Transportation Ministry the following year over its Frankfurt route, fighting off efforts to decrease capacity on the line as a way of protecting El Al's market share. The efforts were rejected by the High Court of Justice, and Lufthansa has continued to enjoy strong business on the route - seeing, for example, a 10 percent rise in passenger traffic last month over August 2006.
Though Muscal said he didn't anticipate serious opposition to the reactivation of the airline's Munich-Tel Aviv route, representatives of the Tourism and Transportation Ministries were non-committal about how they would respond to the company's request. In a short e-mail response to questions submitted by The Jerusalem Post, a representative of the Tourism Ministry declined to comment specifically on Lufthansa, saying simply that the ministry "acts to increase capacity and seats" on flights between Israel and other countries, and that it "works in cooperation on the issue with the Transportation Ministry."
A spokesperson for the Transportation Ministry, meanwhile, wrote that his office would comment on Lufthansa's pending request only after the request is officially made.
El Al upgrading reservations system
As part of "El Al 2010," its long-range revamping of its own image, Israel's national carrier is switching reservations systems, striking an $8 million deal with the company that also provides online reservations services to KLM, Lufthansa, Air France and British Airways. The new system, which is intended to ease the process of making reservations, will go into use in February and is being billed as another example of El Al's upgrading of its customer service.
Israelis renting record numbers of cars for vacation
Ofran Holiday Autos reports a record number of overseas car rentals by Israelis spending the fall holidays abroad. The company is putting Israeli customers behind the steering wheels of 20,000 vehicles overseas, the majority of them in Europe. Drivers of the world, beware.