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A series of terror attacks and threats of possible kidnappings led Israelis in 2005 to heed the government travel advisories they are renowned for ignoring, leading to a 20 percent drop in travel to the Sinai.
The Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) confirmed Wednesday what tour operators had suspected over the last few months - that terror prone Sinai was no longer an option for Israeli travelers.
"Tourism to Sinai is completely down and very few people are going there," said Zvika Karpel, general manager of Hebrew travel Website Gulliver.com. "A year ago, Sinai was an easy sell and this year we haven't even put a target for it in our budget."
According to the CBS, 264,000 Israelis left the country to holiday in Sinai in 2005, compared to a record 397,000 the year before.
The CBS attributed the decline in Sinai travel to the two terror attacks that have shaken the region over the last year-and-a-half. Security officials have reported freer movements of terrorists between Gaza and the Sinai, especially in the wake of Israel's disengagement from Gaza.
In October, 34 people were killed, including 12 Israelis, in a terror attack on the Taba Hilton and the Ras as-Satan resorts.
"Israelis ignored the warnings after the first attack and continued to make it a preferred destination, particularly over the Passover season," Karpel said.
CBS figures showed that Israeli travel to Sinai peaked again in July and August with over 40,000 making the trip in each month, apparently not phased by the attack in Sharm e-Sheikh in July, which killed 88 people and left hundreds wounded.
The government issued its sternest warning in October of very "real and present danger" of an attack, including a kidnapping, causing thousands to leave the region, which they have avoided since.
Karpel said there may be a slow return to Sinai during the Pessah period this year, but it would take a long time to make a real recovery.
He believes growth areas for outgoing travel this year would be a continuation of those experienced in 2005. A total of 3.7 million Israelis left the country for travel last year, showing a slight increase of 2% over 2004.
The biggest increase in outgoing tourism was in sea travel where 151,000 Israelis, representing a 58% rise, left the country by boat. The bulk of travelers, or 3.013 million, left by air, a 5% increase for the year.
Replacing Sinai as the hot Pessah spot this year, Karpel said Turkey and Berlin have become the most popular destinations for Israeli bookings.
This year, however, he said, the US promises to be a very competitive market.
"Two new scheduled carriers, Delta and Israir, will start operating a Tel Aviv-US route, which should bring more attractive services and prices for both Israeli and foreign travelers."
2005 tourism report card
A slight increase in Israelis traveling abroad in 2005 meant the "travel deficit" narrowed significantly for the year.
* 3.7 million Israelis traveled abroad, compared to 3.6 million in 2004
* 1.9 million foreign tourists arrived in Israel, rise of 27%
* Travel deficit (incoming tourists less outgoing) of 1.8 million, down from 2.1 million in 2004.
* Cruise ship growth - 13,300 foreign tourists arrived by sea, compared to 200 in 2004. 58% more Israelis took to the water. (CBS figures)
Airlines cash in on growing TA route
* El Al carried 42% of total traffic in 2005, or 3.6 million passengers, showing growth of 11.6%.
* Lufthansa topped a list of scheduled foreign airlines, carrying 368,146 passengers, followed by Continental Airlines with 316,151, Alitalia with 271,109 and British Airways with 235,187.
* Arkia headed the charter contingent with 368,146 passengers, followed by Turkish airline Fly Air with 315,435, and Israir with 260,804.
* Total of 8.5 million international passengers passed through Israel in 2005, an increase of 11% from the previous year.
(Airline figures provided by Israel Airports Authority)
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