Jerusalem hotels report sharp drop in occupancies

Amid terror wave, Christmas numbers expected to remain paltry compared to previous years.

Jerusalem's Old City and the Temple Mount (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Jerusalem's Old City and the Temple Mount
Hotel occupancy levels in Jerusalem have dropped precipitously since the October terror wave engulfed the capital with Christmas bookings remaining relatively anemic, the head of the Jerusalem Hotel Association said on Monday.
While official numbers have yet to be tabulated for December, Arie Sommer, the director-general of the association, said anecdotal evidence suggests that the city’s downward trend will continue unabated.
“It’s a little bit early to have the data for December because it’s not over yet and it usually takes a month to compile the information, but from what I hear it is not going to be a good month despite thousands of tourists coming for Christmas,” he said.
Sommer attributes the poor showing to the ongoing negative media exposure the capital receives, which is stoking already heightened fears among potential visitors who are wary of international travel following last month’s Paris terrorist attacks.
“The situation looks worse than it really is in the media and, internationally and in Israel, people get concerned,” he said. “I was listening to a news report on the radio the other day about empty restaurants and hotels in Paris and thought they were talking about Jerusalem.”
Since 2013, which Sommer described as “a good year” with some 4 million overnight occupancies in the 9,800 rooms in the capital’s 74 hotels, he said each subsequent year has grown increasingly dismal.
“The average occupancy rate in 2013 was 66 percent, with 316,000 overnight stays in December, but 2014 was a difficult year because of the war and riots,” he explained.
“Fewer than 3.7 million visitors stayed overnight in Jerusalem last year, with December occupancies at 47%, or 250,000 – a decrease of 20% from the previous year.”
While Sommer said 2015 initially was shaping up to be a marked improvement over 2014, the terror wave reversed the trend.
“We started to see the light in 2015 with more reservations and more tourists, then in October the terror wave resulted in a decrease,” he said.
Indeed, by November, which was the last month for which figures have been tallied, Sommer said there was a decrease of 26% compared to the same period in 2013.
December, he said, will likely not result in a significant improvement.
The capital’s hotel industry is not the only sector to be hard hit by the ongoing violence. A spectrum of business owners have seen their profits cut in half since the terror wave commenced, necessitating a NIS 100 million emergency loan last month from the Finance Ministry to the city’s struggling businesses.
To combat the lackluster numbers, the Jerusalem Municipality has initiated a NIS 20m. public relations campaign in an attempt to spur international visitation.
Still, Sommer said he is optimistic the trend will be reversed in the near future.
“We are hoping that in the coming months Jerusalem will get back to normal and tourists will come,” he said. “We’re optimistic things will get better in the year to come.”