The growth of international tourism to Israel is mostly an air travel phenomenon – no huge surprise there. However, stats recently published by the Ministry of Tourism (pdf file in Hebrew available here) indicate that other types of international arrivals are on the rise too. These include tourists entering Israel via the land border crossings with Egypt and Jordan, and cruise ship arrivals at the major coastal ports. In 2013, 73% of tourists arrived in Israel by air, and an impressive 11% by land.
This trend has an undeniable impact on the emphasis of the tourism services industry. Tourists who fly to Israel tend to stay for longer periods, but passengers on cruise ships or who arrive via land borders are more likely to stay for short periods of time. Over 3.5 million tourists came to Israel over the course of 2013, with a little over half a million (16%) visiting for only one day. And single-day visits to Israel have been steadily rising over the past five years, having grown by 28% between 2009 and 2013.
This growth is driven by a few key national markets – approximately one-third of all arrivals from a group of countries including Russia, Germany and Italy are single-day visitors.
Tourists who visit Israel for just one day want to see as much as possible in the short amount of time they have. As a result, private tour guides are increasingly being commissioned to perform whirlwind tours covering only the best of the best spots. Many of the tourists experiencing these day trips are interested in visiting Christian holy sites, but they also want to see the all of the iconic sites that represent Israel.
Jerusalem is, of course, the top destination for day tourists, as it is for 75% of all arrivals. Jerusalem tours tend to include a lookout from Mount Zion, a walking tour through the Old City including the Stations of the Cross, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Western Wall. Yad Vashem and other contemporary sites outside Souleiman''s walls are also in high demand. Private tours of Jerusalem offer maximized flexibility for visitors, as itineraries can be customized and tweaked on the fly. Private tours of Jerusalem and Bethlehem are often combined with sites farther afield, although it certainly helps that Israel is so conveniently small.
The Dead Sea and Masada are popular destinations for day trips as well. Masada is both a fascinating archaeological site and a tragic tale of heroism. A visit to the natural wonder that is the Dead Sea is relaxing and fun. Some tours will also visit Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered – a site that''s significant for its connection to the birth of Christianity and what it teaches us about the Bible.
Short-term Christian tourists commonly go on day tours to Nazareth, with its churches dedicated to the Annunciation. The Sea of Galilee area, with Tiberius as its hub, is likewise a top draw among Christians.
The ancient ruins of the Herodian and Crusader port city of Caesarea are also popular with day tourists. The ancient aqueducts and other archaeological remains open a window into the world of ancient Rome in its heyday. Package tours of Israel can be efficient pricing options when visitors traverse the entire nation within limited timeframes.
Another trend we are seeing in Israeli tourism is the rise of the "lifestyle" tour. Niche themed tours like food tours, market tours, urban tours and cooking workshops are in demand. Tour guides specializing in these niches offer one-day experiences for return visitors who have already been to the most iconic sightseeing spots – or those looking to experience Israel as the locals do.
Although it’s impossible to gain a true feel for Israel is just one day, single-serving tourists can benefit from a small taste of what the country has to offer and will hopefully be encouraged to return for a longer trip – perhaps even by airplane.
Photo courtesy Itamar Grinberg for the Israeli Ministry of Tourism.