Hotel overnight stays fell 13 percent in the first six months of the year, led by a steep decline of 27% in overnights by foreign tourists, the Israel Hotel Association reported Monday. "We are in the midst of a crisis in the incoming tourism industry," IHA director Shmuel Zoral said. "At the end of 2008 the industry was hit by Operation Cast Lead, which led to booking cancellations by foreign travel agents made for all of 2009. "The global economic climate has accelerated the situation, and since then we are paying the price. Over the last couple of months we are seeing a growing difference between the relative modest decline in the number of tourists coming to Israel and the much bigger decline in the number of hotel stays." Zoral attributed this development to shorter stays of tourists in Israel and an increase of hotel stays in neighboring countries. "In order to halt the decline and return to growth, more needs to be invested into marketing efforts and activities," he said. In the first six months of the year, there were 3.7 million hotel overnight stays by foreign tourists, down 27% from the 5.1 million in the first half of 2008. The number of hotel overnight stays by Israelis rose 3% to 5 million during the same period. Sixty-three percent of Israelis stayed in hotels in Eilat and the Dead Sea area. The total number of overnight hotel stays dropped 13% to 8.7 million in the January-June period this year. The average nationwide hotel occupancy rate in the first half of 2009 was 54%, down 16% compared with the same period last year. The biggest drop in overnights by foreign tourists was in Jerusalem, down 35% year-on-year to 1.1 million. Tel Aviv suffered a decline of 24% to 798,000; the Dead Sea area, down 26% to 216,000; Tiberias and Herzliya, down 30% to 284,000; Eilat, down 6% to 446,000; and Nazareth, down 11% to 118,000. The number of overnights by tourists and Israelis in June was 1.7 million, down 7% compared with last June. There were 1.1 million hotel overnight stays by Israelis in June, down 8% compared with last June.