200,000 tourists to be lost in July and August

Far fewer travelers than expected are arriving at Ben Gurion Airport this summer.

jerusalem tourist bus 88 (photo credit: )
jerusalem tourist bus 88
(photo credit: )
Confirming the fears of the tourism industry since the outbreak of violence in the North earlier this month, the Israel Airports Authority said Sunday arrivals at Ben-Gurion Airport fell 5 percent over the first three weeks of July, while industry professionals are estimating some 200,000 tourists will be lost in July and August. "If the violence ends soon, we would have to reset our forecasts to 2.2 million foreign tourist arrivals," Ami Etgar, general manager of the Israel Incoming Tour Operators Association told The Jerusalem Post. "Beyond that it's very difficult to estimate as the fourth quarter is still looking strong with very few cancellations for that period having come through." The Tourism Ministry, meanwhile. has not updated its estimates which still stand at 2.4 million arrivals by year-end. Approximately half of the travelers with immediate plans to come to Israel had cancelled their trips, according to Yossi Fatael, director general of the Israel Travel Agents Association. He noted, however, that those with booking more than a month in advance were holding their reservations. Meanwhile, the Israel Airports Authority told the Post that arrivals at Ben-Gurion fell to 303,433 during the first three weeks of July from 319,303 passengers in the parallel period last year. In contrast, outgoing traffic rose 1.3% to 345,227 passengers, from 340,634 in the first three weeks of July 2005. IAA spokesperson Orly Maman noted, however, that the statistics also were influenced this year by the three-week period before Tisha B'Av, a typically slower time for travel to Israel, particularly among the orthodox Jewish community, whereas last year the period started on July 24. "Taking this into account, we estimate a drop of just over 3% as a direct result of the war," Maman said. Validating these trends, El Al said it has had many requests from tourists wishing to leave the country and from Israelis abroad wishing to bring forward their return flights home. The company added that the security situation will hurt its passenger count of incoming and outgoing travelers for July and August. Last week, the airline said it likely would report a loss for the year as a result of increased competition, higher fuel costs and the fighting in Lebanon. Meanwhile, foreign carriers provided mixed reports on their operations into Israel. "We've naturally had cancellations, but on the whole we have been operating with strong bookings," said Delta Airlines Israel spokesperson Eitan Loewenstein. British Airways said, however, it has seen 15% cancellations, which started to stream in on Thursday. Swiss previously said it had a 10% cancellation rate. The two most popular foreign carriers for June, according to IAA figures, Continental Airways and Lufthansa German airlines, both, however, reported business as usual for July and into next month. "We have not seen a significant change in travel behavior and passengers are still seeing the [Lebanon] operation as limited and are waiting for further developments before canceling their September bookings," said Ofer Kisch, general manager of Lufthansa Israel. Meanwhile Air France changed its schedule, once again, adding an hour to one of its flights into Tel Aviv, due to a stop over in Pathos, Cyprus, to pick up its crew, which is not sleeping in Tel Aviv because of the heightened security situation in the country. Before the violence up North reversed trends, IAA said its combined passenger count in and out of the country showed a 12.1% rise to 4.14 million travelers for the first six months of the year, compared to 2005 levels. Separately, Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog has allocated NIS 2 million of the ministry's 2006 budget to market tourism to the North once the violence in the area is over. The ministry said the campaign would be designed to give priority to encouraging tourism to the North with NIS 1m. allocated to promoting local tourism, and the rest focusing on foreign tourists.