The number of hotel stays by foreign tourists dropped 27 percent in April, the Israel Hotel Association reported Monday. "The incoming-tourism sector is in a deep crisis," Rafi Farber, deputy director-general of the Israel Hotel Association, said Monday. "Ever since Operation Cast Lead, coupled with the growing impact of the global economic crisis, we are reporting heavy declines in overnight stays and occupancy rates at hotels." The cancellation of the VAT exemption on tourism services, which is part of the government's proposed budget for 2009-2010, would hurt the industry, he said. In April, the national hotel occupancy rate fell an average of 18% to 59% compared with the same month last year. The total number of overnight stays in April dropped 12%, to 1.7 million, compared with the same month a year earlier. Foreign-tourist overnight stays were down 27% in April, to 709,000, from 975,000 the previous year. Overnight stays by Israelis rose 4% over the same period. In almost all areas of the country, the number of overnight stays dropped in April, with the exception of Eilat, where they were up 10%, to 118,000. Among the hardest hit areas were Tiberias, down 46%, to 46,000; Jerusalem, down 35%, to 214,000; Haifa, down 32%, to 62,000; the Dead Sea, down 28%, to 49,000; and Tel Aviv, down 24%, to 141,000. In the first four months of the year there were 5.3 million overnight stays, down 14% compared with the same period last year. Overnights by foreign tourists fell 26%, to 2.6 million, while overnights by Israelis declined by 1%, to 2.9 million. The Tourism Ministry on Monday reported a moderate improvement in incoming tourism. During April, the number of tourists visiting the country declined 14%, compared with a fall of 25% in the first quarter of the year. The ministry attributed the improvement to its intensive marketing activities following Operation Cast Lead and joint marketing campaigns in Europe, the US, Russia and Scandinavia, which have a budget of NIS 150 million for 2009. Farber attributed the discrepancy in the two reports to tourists from the US, the UK, France and Russia who either have a home in Israel or visit relatives for Pessah. In April, 250,000 tourists visited the country, including 19,500 from the UK and 30,000 from France. Incoming tourism from North America fell by 5%, to 54,500, from 56,000 last April, while tourism from Germany rose 20%, to 14,000.