tour bus 88 298.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
If the streets of Israel seemed relatively empty in 2006 it was with good reason as 4.5 percent fewer tourists arrived in the country and more Israelis than ever before traveled abroad during the year.
The Central Bureau of Statistics on Tuesday gave its final tourism count for 2006, reporting that 1.8 million foreign incoming tourists came to Israel closing the year with the expected war-influenced drop from 2005.
"Last year started with great hope which disappeared with the war in Lebanon," said Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog. "It's no secret that the tourism industry was most hurt from the war and despite the recovery we saw at the end of the year, the process is slow and will still take a number of months."
The year ended with 135,500 tourists arriving in December, compared to the 162,500 that came in the parallel month of 2005. The figures highlighted the effects war had on tourism as CBS split its report for the year into two periods to reflect the conflict.
In the pre-war first half, CBS said tourism rose 22% from 2005 while between July and December 27% fewer tourists arrived.
The war didn't seem to deter US visitors, however, who again topped the list of nationalities arriving in Israel, adding 8% to the 2005 numbers as 494,000 entered the country.
French tourists maintained the number two spot despite a 19% drop in their numbers to 252,000 while 17% fewer Germans, or a total of 87,000 arrived in the year.
Meanwhile, as tourists stayed away in 2006 because of the war, the CBS report suggested that more Israelis left the country on travels abroad despite a spurt of cancellations during the month of war.
CBS said 3.7 million Israeli exits were counted during 2006, reaching an new all-time high, 1% above 2005 levels.
Despite the record number of exits, the number of individual citizens who traveled dropped to 289,000 last year, from 295,000 in 2005 and from 315,000 in 2001, with CBS noting that around one-third of Israeli travelers left the country more than once during the year.
The data also showed a continuing decline of Israeli visits to the Sinai as the Taba border saw 191,000 local crossings, 28% less than 2005. Some 123,400 tourists went through the same border post in 2006, 14% more than the previous year.
In contrast to incoming tourism trends, the outgoing market picked up in the second half of the year despite reports of high cancellations in July and August because of the war.
Seasonal trends showed a 27% rise in Israeli exits from July to December, compared to the parallel period 2005, after recording a 12% drop in numbers in the first half of the year, CBS said.