Good Weather, Holidays Boost Tourism in North; Airport Buzzes

Head of Golan Tourism Association: Most guest houses and hotels booked to capacity over Simhat Torah.

After a comparatively meager Sukkot, hotels in the north were packed with holiday-makers for the Simhat Torah holiday. The chairman of the Golan Tourism Association, Shmulik Hazan, said most guest houses and hotels were booked to capacity for the weekend, while bed-and-breakfasts were 70 percent booked on average.

"I would have been happier to see more bookings for bed-and-breakfasts, but it seems people preferred the hotel experience this time," said Hazan. "The tourists went for higher-quality accommodation at a better price. This is food for thought. The prices there might be a bit high."

Hazan said reservations were mainly last minute this year. "It seems people saw the weather was nice, and the prices probably came down toward the end of the [Sukkot] holiday."

The tourism official said that near the end of the holiday week, tourist traffic was superb. There were many hikers and walkers on the Golan trails, and people turned out for the sculpting festival at the Amir junction and other other events.

"Tens of thousands of people filled the tourist sites and enjoyed such activities as ice-skating and kayaking," said Hazan.

50,000 off and running

As for international travel, today is expected to be one of the most congested days of the year at Ben-Gurion International Airport, as Israelis will begin returning from abroad and foreign tourists begin to leave. Some 50,000 travelers are expected to pass through the airport.

During the Sukkot holiday, some 435,000 people were expected to travel through the airport from 2,800 flights, the Israeli Airport Authority said. For the Jewish High Holiday season, the IAA said, some 820,000 passengers were were expected to have passed through Ben-Gurion Airport, a similar number to that of the holiday season last year.

The IAA breakdown by countries suggests that the most popular destination abroad for Israelis this year was Turkey, with 70,000 passengers taking 500 flights. Next in popularity was the United States, with 38,000 on 167 flights; Germany, with 34,000 on 196 flights; Italy, with 32,000 on 239 flights; and the United Kingdom, with 27,000 on 142 flights.

Turkey's return to the top of the list is, in effect, a withdrawal of the Israeli consumer boycott following Turkish criticism of Operation Cast Lead. The boycott appeared to have waned in the summer, when Turkey slightly surpassed the U.S. as a destination, with 295,700 Israeli visitors compared to 294,000 for the U.S.

The record so far for passengers at Ben-Gurion goes to the evening of Rosh Hashanah, with 53,360 passengers passing through the airport. The weekend of the New Year saw 166,651 passengers on 1,114 flights leaving and entering Israel via Ben-Gurion Airport.

During Sukkot, the first day saw 11,691 passengers on 59 flights, while Hoshana Raba six days later saw 27,579 passengers on 213 flights.

IAA director Kobi Mor said, "The rush season in Ben-Gurion International Airport is expected to last until just after the season of the High Holidays. The IAA made all the preparations for passengers to enjoy a pleasant stay that the airport on short schedules. The IAA will continue its present arrangements, to allow a free flow of departing and returning passengers after Sukkot."