The confrontation between Israel and Iranians in Syria is casting a pall over the start of the Golan Heights tourist season.
So far 60-80 percent of hotels and bed-and-breakfast reservations in the Golan have been canceled.
May is especially important for the region’s tourism. On May 18 the tourist season when visitors pick their own fruit will begin. This has attracted tens of thousands of tourists to the Golan. Now tour operators fear the entire enterprise is under threat.
Shmuel Hazan, CEO of the Golan Tourism Association, says the area’s residents are maintaining their routine amid the chaos surrounding them, but he is very worried over the state of tourism, a major source of income in the area.
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“At the moment we have 60-80 percent cancellations,” he says. “That means Golan tourism is taking a very hard beating.”
Hazan said most visitors in the spring come in organized groups, in buses, in the middle of the week, while private tourists come mainly during the weekends. This means that every cancellation of an organized group reduces the number of visitors by dozens and sometimes hundreds.
“Every bus cancellation has a dramatic effect on us,” says Hazan. “We understand why people are canceling and the tourist agents enable them to do so as much as they can. At the moment we cannot recommend that people come to the Golan Heights. We can only hope this situation will pass quickly and we can return to routine.”
Hazan, who lives in Moshav Aniam in the central Golan, says the residents know that the tension will pass, but “the feeling is that it’s not going to be short and it’s clear that if it goes on, the damage to us will increase. But we’ll wait and see. At the moment we hope we can open the cherry season in a week and celebrate Shavuot the way we’re used to doing,” he said.
Yasmin from Hebron came with a group of Palestinian tourists on Thursday to the northern Golan Heights. The group spent the night at a hotel in Majdal Shams, and when the sirens went off and bombs echoed, she woke up, but says she was not frightened.
“For me it’s usual. I took it in my stride,” she says. She toured Kfar Mas’ada the following morning, saying she enjoyed the local foods.
Ahmed and Fares, two brothers from Tul Karm and their wives, who came in the same group, had a different experience. “I couldn’t sleep, I stayed up until four, five in the morning,” Ahmed said. “I wanted to go home.”
He says Tul Karm is calm. “The last time I felt like this was in 2000 [at the start of the second intifada]. I was a boy and I felt the same thing. I just wanted to run.”
Lana, Fares’ wife, said: “I came for a holiday. This wasn’t part of the plan. I was afraid.”
Despite the bombings, the group said it would continue as planned on Friday to an observation point on Mount Bental, which reopened on Thursday to visitors after being closed due to the security situation. After that they said they will kayak on the water and travel on to Tiberias.