Israeli tourism is on the way back to pre-pandemic highs

Despite the pandemic delivering the haymaker of the century, the tourism industry in Israel is getting back on its feet/

 JEWS PRAY at the Western Wall on Jerusalem Day. The Kotel is the most visited site in Israel, according to the Tourism Ministry. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
JEWS PRAY at the Western Wall on Jerusalem Day. The Kotel is the most visited site in Israel, according to the Tourism Ministry.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

As Summer gradually draws to a close, a report from the Tourism Ministry shows that Israel’s hot (and lately rocket-heavy) weather this year hasn’t put a damper on incoming tourism. In fact, the tourism industry is on its way to record highs, currently falling only 22% shy of 2019’s record numbers.

“The positive trend is continuing, and according to the information we have, this will continue through August,”

Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov

According to the report, 249,500 tourist entries were recorded in July 2022, which is pretty impressive compared to last July’s 49,200 – which is itself impressive when measured against the same month’s tourists in 2020: a paltry 6,000.

The sharp dip from July 2019’s recent record of 322,800 was a clear casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic, which had a devastating effect on tourism around the world - a phenomenon from which Israel was not exempt.

“It’s night and day,” said Mark Feldman, CEO of Ziontours Jerusalem. “The industry was at its [scarcest] a few months after COVID came out, closing the country, closing the skies, all over the world. I’m actually impressed that [even] 1,000 tourists came in.”

 A tourist at Shuk Mahane Yehuda (credit: ESHET INCOMING VIA ALL ISRAEL NEWS) A tourist at Shuk Mahane Yehuda (credit: ESHET INCOMING VIA ALL ISRAEL NEWS)

““Everyone in the tourism industry was hanging by a thread,” he said. “We let go of 95% of our staff, similar to many other places. A few hotels kept a skeleton staff running, just because it would have cost them more to fire them.”

Catch vibes, not COVID

However, as travel restrictions have gradually lifted, so too have the spirits of Israeli-bound tourists - and they’ve been flocking to the airport in order to catch vibes in the holy land: according to the Tourism Ministry, the year is only 56% off from pre-pandemic tourism numbers, which points to a continuing recovery trend for incoming tourism to Israel.

Feldman is more critical, however, and claimed that the government fumbled the ball when dealing with travel during the pandemic. 

“The Israeli government said ‘close the skies down,’ and that lockdown resulted in the Omicron variant coming to Israel much later than the rest of the world, which pushed us back even further,” he said. “There was an incredible amount of frustration, and a large amount of people in the tourism industry in the aviation industry left.”

Regardless, after an arduous period, the tourists are finally coming back, and based on the pace of entries so far, the ministry estimates that the anticipated annual total for incoming tourism in 2022 will range between 2.2 to 2.5 million people – again about half of 2019’s 4.4 million.

Public and private sectors

Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov issued a statement on the report, expressing the ministry’s hopeful outlook given the data on hand.

“The positive trend is continuing, and according to the information we have, this will continue through August,” he said, adding that the recent conflict in Gaza as a result of the IDF’s Operation Breaking Dawn are “not expected to impact the hundreds of thousands of tourists visiting Israel this month. They continue to enjoy our beautiful and unique country, with its varied religious, cultural and historical sites and a vibrant nightlife and entertainment scene.”

For tour guides like Geoff Winston, director of programs and tour educator at Keshet Educational Journeys, the rising rates of tourism translate directly into rising rates of business.

“I have been pounded with inquiries and know my colleagues have as well. Even today I got two or three inquiries about the next two or three weeks,” said Winston. He explained that several of his company’s groups have even doubled in size to compensate for the lost time during the pandemic slump.

“Hotels are at capacity, sites are at capacity,” he said. “It is amazing to see.”