More tourists than ever visited Israel in 2017, with an estimated 3.6 million tourists visiting the country’s sandy beaches and holy sites.Visiting tourists spent an estimated NIS 20 billion inside the country, according to a statement from the Tourism Ministry, and some 200,000 Israelis work in the industry.The government was quick to take credit for the uptick in visitors, with 700,000 more than the previous year, or an increase of 25%.“The all-time record number of tourists visiting Israel this year is no accident,” Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said. “The actions taken by my ministry since I took up my position have brought Israel an unprecedented record in incoming tourism.”The top five countries of origin for tourists to Israel were the US, Russia, France, Germany and the UK. 54% of incoming tourists were Christian (a plurality of whom were Catholic, and 25% visiting as pilgrims). Only about a fifth of all tourists were Jewish, with the remainder comprising other faiths or being non-affiliated. Some 41% of 2017 tourists had already visited Israel.The average tourist spends some $1,600 during his or her stay in Israel, according to tourism ministry data for the first half of 2017.Indonesian tourists spent the most on average daily, about $310 per day, excluding airfare. The most visited sites in Israel were Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, the Dead Sea, Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee area and the northern Galilee.“The additional half million tourists who came to Israel this year are half a million more ambassadors of Israel around the world and our loyal representatives on social media,” Levin said. “This is also a decisive contribution to Israel’s image.”Also in the past year, some 18 new routes opened at from Ben-Gurion Airport, with new airlines such as Hainan Airlines, Lot, Ryanair, Wizz Air and WOW doing business. A new route from Shanghai has helped lead to a 46% increase in Chinese tourism since 2016 and a 139% increase from 2015.
More planes servicing the Israeli southern resort city of Eilat – about 50 weekly flights – may also help with the uptick in tourists.Many Europeans embark on weekend winter trips to the sunny, beach town. (To increase air traffic, the government provides a quarter-million euro grant per weekly flight to airlines offering new direct flights.) Also in the first half of 2017, hotel occupancy rates were up 11% when compared to the same period the year prior.Between January and November 2017, some 3.3 million tourists entered the country – 2.9 million people by air and 373,000 crossed over the land borders with Egypt and Jordan.Despite the growth in tourists visiting Israel, neighboring Jordan and Egypt still enjoy many more annual tourists than the Jewish state. Levin has sought to market the country with a “Two Cities, One Break” message, showcasing Jerusalem’s religious significance and Tel Aviv’s nightlife and beaches. At the same time, the government seeks to expand European travel to Eilat, and launch social media campaigns in China among social media influencers.