Gov't: Number of first-time visitors soars 73%

The number of first-time visitors to Israel soared 73% to 328,000 in the first six months of the year, the Tourism Ministry said on Tuesday, citing the semi-annual Israeli Inbound Tourism Survey. The number of tourists more than doubled from 75,000 to 156,000 as revenue from foreign tourism jumped 23% to $1.1b. The number of pilgrims doubled to 138,000, while Jewish tourism rose 5% to 371,000. In addition, 364,000 Christians came, along with 130,000 tourists who did not claim any religious affiliation. The general rise in tourism was accompanied by a 36% rise in business travel. Minister of Tourism Avraham Hirchson commented on the figures, saying, "The data show the effectiveness of our marketing efforts. Tourism is a major source of revenue for all sectors of Israeli society."