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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The tourism industry is keeping a close watch on recent events in Jerusalem as concerns rise over the impact the riots could have on tourist traffic to the city with the approach of the busy Pessah holiday season.
"We are concerned it will affect tourism," said Shmuel Zurel, director-general of the Israel Hotels association. "However, Pessah is characterized by individual traffic and if it was a busy period for groups it would almost certainly have a greater influence on the numbers."
Demonstrations against repair work being done on an earthen ramp to the Temple Mount next to the Western Wall turned violent last week as construction started at the site.
That has worried tourism professionals given the security-sensitive nature of the industry, casting another shadow over its hopes for a recovery from the negative influence last summer's war in Lebanon had on the tourism into the country.
They remain hopeful for Pessah, however.
"It's very early to say how our occupancy will be and we don't know how the events in Jerusalem will influence traffic," said the IHA's Zurel. "On the face of things, it seems that bookings for Pessah will be high and the situation at the hotels will be good."
Meanwhile, traffic out of the country, is loaded.
"Pessah is packed," said Mark Feldman, CEO of travel operator ZionTours. "Getting out towards the end of March and returning after Pessah is now very expensive as planes are just sold out and all that the airlines are selling are full-fare tickets."
The Pessah season is known to be the peak season for both incoming and outgoing travel from Israel forcing local airlines to add flights to their regular schedules over the three-week period encompassing the festival.
Last week, El Al said it would add six flights to North America and another 16 to Europe to meet the higher demand for flights over the Pessah holiday period. Israir similarly said Monday it is adding 20 flights to various destinations over the period.
Despite the extra flights, local travel Web site Gulliver reported that as much as 80 percent of available flights to Europe and the US through Pessah are now full.
The most popular among Israeli vacationers this year are Antalia, Turkey, Northern Italy, Greece and New York, according to Gulliver bookings.
"Bookings for Pessah were already coming in December," said Yael Tamir, deputy managing director of Gulliver.
At the same time, Tamir added that, among Israelis, the number of bookings for local vacations has also increased over last year as the North joins Eilat and the Dead Sea as the most popular destinations this year.
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