Despite the cease-fire agreement that took effect Monday and the almost immediate return to operation of tourist businesses in the North, the month-long war is expected to continue to exert its influence on tourism possibly through the end of the year. Certainly, indications show the downward trend of foreign arrivals will flow into August as the Israel Airports Authority reported a 14.4 percent drop in passenger arrivals at Ben-Gurion Airport in the first two weeks of the month. Some 204,583 travelers arrived and 221,523 flew out of the country in the two week period, bringing the total passenger count to 426,106, or 10.2% less than the parallel period last year. At the same time, the Central Bureau of Statistics reported that 149,000 tourists arrived in July, marking a 25% decline from a year earlier. The 13% rise in tourist arrivals for the year so far (January to July) serves as a reminder of the upward trend tourism was enjoying prior to the war and the initial promise July and August had held for the industry. "We were forecasting 2.4 million tourists for the year but now we feel we will be lucky to see 1.6 million," said one tourism industry official. While some 1.2 million foreign visitors have arrived in the country so far, it is now believed that, even with a major marketing campaign that is hoped to restore tourist confidence in the Israel, the benefits will only be felt from next year since the war may be too fresh in the minds of travelers making their bookings now for the rest of 2006. More 'foreign' Israelis in Israel CBS figures also showed that 1,300 Israelis living abroad visited the country in July. As the war may have influenced some of those to make the trip back home, it also caused many locals to delay their travel plans until the fighting ended. The number of Israelis traveling abroad dropped 8% from last July to 465,000 exits in 2006. Of those, CBS said, around 20,000 traveled more than once during the month. This year has seen 2.1 million locals traveling abroad, approximately 1% less than the parallel January to July period last year. The Katyusha tour circuit As hotels and tourist attractions in the North resume their regular operations, the war also has introduced new opportunities for the industry. Kibbutz guest house Gonen said it has had requests from tour operators expressing high demand for tours of places hit by Katyusha rockets. Uri Alon, marketing manager at Gonen, said that while people in the center of the country saw what was happening on TV, the war was not really felt among them and there is now a strong need for them to identify with the residents of the North. The proposed program, Alon said, would include visits to bomb shelters, discussions with residents of Kiryat Shmona and kibbutzim in the area, Magen David Adom staff and others, as well as tours of sites where rockets fell and people were injured and look-out points over the Lebanese border. Flights to Haifa resume Having stopped its flights from Eilat to Haifa during the course of the war, Arkia Airlines said it would resume the operation on August 24. The airline said it did not restart the flights immediately because they depend on demand which remains low at the moment. It generally flies the route twice a week on Sundays and Thursdays. New hotel in Ein Kerem Meanwhile, having dominated the concerns of the industry prior to the war, the need to enhance the tourism infrastructure continues to hold its place with investors A new boutique hotel was opened this week in the Jerusalem suburb of Hadassah Ein Kerem at an investment of NIS 35 million. Located next to the hospital of the same name, the Hadassah Ein Kerem Hotel is built over 6,000 square meters with five floors and 96 rooms. Linked to the hospital, the hotel is intended to host recovering patients from cosmetic, eye and general surgeries and has 30 rooms catering especially to women who have just given birth. Air Canada to fly revamped planes this winter As part of the upgrade of its entire fleet, Air Canada will fly its refurbished Boeing 767-300 wide-body aircraft to Tel Aviv in the coming winter season. Dubbed by the company as "Project XM, or Extreme Makeover," Air Canada said the upgrade would bring a complete re-haul of its executive first/business class, to come equipped with private cabins for passengers, separated by a 109 cm.-high screen. Each cabin will have an arm chair style seat equipped with a massage feature that opens into a 191 cm.-long flat bed with electronically adjustable pillow. Passengers will have sufficient working space with a larger tray table and have access to in-seat personal video and audio entertainment system and power for electronic devices. The makeover also will bring wider seats and private screens to economy class passengers. Air Canada, which operates one daily flight between Toronto and Tel Aviv, said recently it had a 16.4% growth in sales on the route in the first half of the year compared to last. The company added that it has gained 18% market share during the period to 51%, after canceling its interline agreement with El Al in December, which allowed the Israeli carrier to ticket reservations on Air Canada connections out of Toronto.