A woman from Romania is Israel’s 3,000,000th overnight visitor for 2017, breaking all previous records and a sign of how the Israeli tourism industry has rebounded in the face of war and violence.When Ioana Isac, 31, arrived with her partner, Mihai Georgescu, the two walked down a red carpet at Ben-Gurion Airport flanked by balloons and flowers.Tourism Minister Yariv Levin greeted them, while a limousine awaited to whisk them to a luxury suite at the Dead Sea, along with a helicopter tour of the country, a guided sunset tour along Tel Aviv’s boardwalk, and a gourmet private dinner prepared by Israeli chef Nir Zook at his home.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also planned a surprise for the couple, granting them a personal tour of the Tower of David Museum in Jerusalem’s Old City.“This is a special day and a historic milestone as we break the 3 million-tourist barrier and set a new all-time record,” said Levin. “Half a million tourists who came to us this year are half a million more ambassadors of Israel in the world. I am happy with the achievements that we in the Tourism Ministry are seeing, as a result of the huge investment that we are making in marketing Israel around the world, and our exceptional collaborations with airlines and the connections that we maintain and strengthen with tour operators. All these are bearing fruit and have added about NIS 17 billion and thousands of jobs to the local economy.”The number breaks the previous record of overnight visitors set in 2013, when 2.96 million tourists stayed overnight in Israel, according to the Tourism Ministry.Fewer visitors came in 2014 due to the Gaza war, with 2.92 million tourists, and tourism fell even further in 2015, to 2.79 million visitors, but in 2016 it was on the rebound and rose to 2.9 million. The statistics exclude “day-trippers,” or visitors who disembark for a day from a cruise ship or cross the Jordanian border for a quick outing. When those numbers are included the picture is murkier.The traditional metric – which most tourist ministries use worldwide – tends to include day-trippers and look at the gross number of tourists. That shows a year-by-year decline, with a record 3.5 million tourists in 2013, falling to 3.25 million in 2014, 3.1 million in 2015, and 3.069 million in 2016, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.It is unclear whether this year’s tally, including day-trippers, will beat the 2013 record.“You saw a few years ago – nobody will come here when there are missiles,” Levin told The Jerusalem Post last month, referring to the 2014 Gaza war (Operation Protective Edge). “But I do think that we built a much more solid base, and our ability to get back to the bigger numbers will take a much shorter time.”From January to October of 2017, some 63,000 Romanian tourists visited the country.This is a 57% increase from the same period in 2016, when 40,100 tourists entered. In 2015, the number of tourists from Romania who entered the country during these same months stood at 37,400.On average, Romanian tourists spend seven nights in Israel while on vacation.At the height of the season, some 64 weekly flights service Romania and Israel, most on the Bucharest to Tel Aviv route. Another 15 weekly flights travel from Timisoara, Oradea, Craiova, Iasi and Cluj to Ben-Gurion Airport.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomes the 3 millionth tourist to Israel (IsraelPM / YouTube)