Nonetheless, tourism officials are optimistic that business will pick up as vacationers hope to take advantage of last-minute deals.
By NADIA BEIDAS
Early bookings for Pessah have decreased due to the recession, Operation Cast Lead and the political tension with Turkey, tourism officials said, but many are optimistic that business will pick up as vacationers hope to take advantage of last-minute deals.
Israel Hotel Association director-general Shmuel Zurel said it was too early to tell what business for Pessah will be. "I believe it will be slower than previous years," he said.
More people this year may book their vacations at the last minute, Zurel said, adding that hotel occupancy is expected to be about 10 percent lower than last year.
Miki Azulai, general manager of Ayala Tours in Jerusalem, also said business was weak, as bookings are down by 40% compared to last year.
"Usually we have some indication [of sales this year] according to the bookings," he said. "This year it's a big question mark. We already lost a big part of the pre-bookings."
Sales for Pessah have just started, Azulai said, adding, "I believe sales will reach 90 percent of what we had last Pessah."
Bookings to Turkey are down due to the political tension, Azulai said. People are opting to vacation in Georgia, Greece and Romania, he said, while bookings to Morocco and Egypt are also very slow.
Azulai said there have not been many reservations in local tourism, but it was still too early to tell, as those bookings usually happen later.
Amos Seri-Levi, CEO of Planetto, a travel chain that manages 78 travel agencies, reported that travel to Turkey has suffered greatly, but that more capacity in other locations - such as Croatia, Prague, Bulgaria, the Greek Islands and Spain - will be offered.
Destinations not expected to suffer include the United States and France, because people usually go to visit relatives there, he said.
On average, flight prices are down as much as 20%, Seri-Levi said, as the foreign tourism agencies are competing to bring in Israeli tourists.
Shabtai Shay, director of the Israel Hotel Association in Eilat, said the occupancy for the Pessah period was 60% to 70%. He said if interest continues, the occupancy would surpass 90%, which is the usual rate for that time of year.
Eilat hotels have offered discounted rates for early bookings, Shay said. On average, early bookings were about 20% to 25% less, he said. Rates were still offered at an estimated discount of 10%, on average, he said.
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