High Prices in Israel Deter Tourists, Survey Shows; Government Campaign Fails

According to Tourism Ministry survey for 2018, average daily expenditure per tourist was $156, with those from South America spending the most

Tourists walking up the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem's Old City, December 2018.
Emil Salman

The high cost of vacationing in Israel continues to deter tourists and constitutes the industry’s weak point, according to a survey conducted by the Tourism Ministry for 2018.

Tourists’ satisfaction about the bang for their buck in Israel traditionally receives a very low grade, and this year the grade was 3.4 out of 5. Although this is an increase compared to the previous five years (when the average rating was 3.1), it is quite low compared to other criteria that were examined.

Tourists from Eastern European countries such as Slovakia, Romania, Poland and Hungary gave their lowest satisfaction ranking to expenditures on hotels, restaurants, bars, entry to attractions, etc. But there were also no few tourists from Great Britain, Germany, Japan and Hong Kong who expressed their dissatisfaction with the high prices.

>> Read more: How to stay in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for less than $50 a night

On the other hand, tourists from the United States, Russia and Ukraine gave the highest grade (an average of 3.7), thereby increasing the overall satisfaction concerning value for money.

In previous years, the tourism survey was far more comprehensive, examining some 25 criteria (including satisfaction with the beaches and sea; border passport control; public transportation; and cleanliness of public spaces). This was designed to provide a broad picture of the strengths and weaknesses of a vacation in Israel from a tourist’s perspective.

Last year, though, the ministry decided to restrict the survey. In addition to the criterion of value for money, only two components were examined: Overall satisfaction with the visit (which received a grade of 4.3, the same as in 2017); and satisfaction with the facilities at the airports and border crossings (which received a grade of 3.9, as in the two previous years). For 93 percent of tourists, overall satisfaction with the visit was ranked very good to excellent.

The Tourism Ministry explained its move by noting that “in the past 20 years, we saw no significant differences in the replies regarding satisfaction. And since the tourists are asked dozens of additional questions, it was decided not to burden them.” It added that it may consider reinstating more questions in the future.

However, although there was no real change in recent years concerning certain issues, an investigation by TheMarker reveals that there had been significant changes in many other areas dropped from the most recent survey.

For example, satisfaction over disabled access dropped from a 3.7 rating in 2016 to 3.4 in 2017; tourist information offices, which in 2016 received a 3.9 rating, received only 3.6 in 2017. By contrast, the evaluation of car rental services increased from a 3.3 rating in 2016 to 3.6 in 2017.

The numbers show that in order to assess the tourism situation in Israel and decide on how to strengthen it, the Tourism Ministry would do well to continue examining tourist satisfaction on important issues such as public transportation, tour guides, and the quality of the information offered to tourists and its accessibility.

Independence pays

According to the survey, the average daily expenditure per tourist is $156 (not including plane tickets), which is similar to 2017. The tourists with the deepest pockets came from South America ($228 per day) and Asia ($215).

Most of the tourists coming to Israel (65 percent) do not join an organized tour or purchase a tourism package — and it turns out that being independent pays: The independent tourist spends $124 per day; those coming via tourism packages spend $178, while those arriving on organized tours spend the most per day — $233.

According to the survey, Jerusalem’s leading tourist attractions were the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Via Dolorosa, all in the Old City. Outside of Jerusalem, the leading attractions were ancient Jaffa (which was visited by 51percent of tourists) and Tel Aviv Port (38 percent). In addition, Masada, Caesarea, the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth and Capernaum (on the shores of Lake Kinneret) were visited by 26 percent of tourists.

With the exception of Tel Aviv Port, whose popularity has grown significantly (only 21 percent of tourists reported visiting there in 2017), most of the sites’ figures were comparable to previous years.

While the activity of Airbnb in Israel is expanding, it seems there has been no real change in where tourists choose to stay. In 2018, 55 percent stayed in hotels (compared to 59 percent in 2017), 28 percent stayed with relatives or friends (compared to 24 percent in 2017), and only 9 percent chose to stay in a rented apartment (compared to 10 percent in 2017).

The survey also shows that the Tourism Ministry’s flagship campaign, “Two Cities, One Break,” starring Israeli model Shir Elmaliach — which was advertised throughout Europe in recent years and offered a short-break vacation in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv — had no effect. Although tens of millions of shekels were invested in the campaign, only 6.5 percent of tourists were familiar with the slogan.

Another interesting finding was that the vast majority of tourists visiting Israel don’t take the opportunity to explore other countries in the region during their vacation. The most popular destination of the few (4.5 percent) who also visited a neighboring country was Jordan.

The Tourism Ministry believes that tourists who come to Israel then become ambassadors who encourage additional tourism. The survey shows that 53 percent of tourists polled last year changed their perception of Israel for the better after their visit; for 46 percent there was no difference; and only 1 percent said their perception of Israel had changed for the worse after their stay.

Over half of the visitors were Christian (55 percent), about a quarter were Jewish (27.5 percent) and just over 2 percent were Muslim. For 30 percent of tourists, the purpose of the trip was to visit relatives and friends; 24 percent were Christian pilgrims; 21 percent came for touring and sightseeing; 10 percent came to Israel for a good time; 9 percent came for business reasons or as conference delegates, and 1 percent cited other reasons.