Tourism surges in first months of '08

Ministry moving ahead with plans to refurbish unused hotel rooms and expand capacity.

duty free 88 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
duty free 88 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Some 267,000 people entered Israel in March 2008, a growth of 36 percent in comparison to March 2007, when 196,000 tourists visited Israel, according to a recent Tourism Ministry report. 648,000 tourists visited Israel in the first three months of 2008, a growth of 44% in comparison to the first quarter of 2007. The ministry reported that the swell of tourists entering the country fits with its earlier estimation, according to which 2.8 million people will visit Israel by the end of 2008. The ministry's statement reported that the nation's hotels, tourist sites and beaches were prepared for the arrival of 80,000 tourists to Israel for Pessah. Manpower will be reinforced at Israel's airports, while the tourist information bureaus in Eilat, Jerusalem, Nazareth and in Ben-Gurion International Airport will operate on a full schedule during the days of the holiday. But looking further ahead, the ministry sees a tourist industry unprepared to absorb the upswing in Israel's visitors. "The current inventory of guest rooms in Israel does not fit the high demand anticipated during the next few years. Some of the guest rooms that are no longer functioning require some serious renovations," Shaul Tzemach, Tourism Ministry director-general, said. To address that need, the Tourism Ministry plans to establish a financial fund for the upgrading of more than 1,500 guest rooms. An inter-ministerial committee of the Tourism and the Finance Ministries will publish tenders for the accompanying banks and the supervising body. The inter-ministerial committee gathered for the first time earlier this week and started to draft the tender for the participating banks. Another tender will be published soon for the supervising body. The project will start in August 2008 and its second stage is anticipated to begin during 2009. 45,000 guest rooms are currently available in Israel, and the project aspires to return to operation 1,500 currently unusable rooms.