New Campaign Aims to Bring Back the Tourists

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Empty arrivals hall at Ben Gurion Airport during the July scare.Credit: AFP

The fighting in Gaza caused tourist arrivals to Israel to drop sharply in July, putting an abrupt end to what had been shaping up as a record year for the airline and hotel industries, the government reported yesterday.

But figures showed it also caused Israelis to cancel their travel plans abroad, the Central Bureau of Statistics reported.

Israel’s tourism industry has been one of the biggest casualties of the fight in Gaza, which is now entering its second month, as repeated cease-fires have been broken or allowed to expire. Unlike manufacturing and to some extent retails, not only will airlines, hotels, restaurants and attractions not be able to recoup the losses but may have to wait for months before travelers risk returning.

The number of foreign tourists entering Israel plunged 26% in July from a year earlier, to about 218,000. But even though Hamas rocket attacks began in June, the number of tourists arriving grew by an identical 26% during the first week of July from the same time in 2013, the CBS said.

But after the formal start of Operation Protective Edge, the cancellations began. In the following nine days, the number of arrivals dropped 29% year on year, and from the 18th of the month to the 31st, the figure was down 47%, the CBS said.

The decline in the second half of the month was in part because many foreign airlines suspended service on July 22 after a Hamas rocket hit a home close to Ben-Gurion International Airport.

Most carriers resumed service within two days after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration rescinded the warning, but wide coverage of the event, as well as the fact that many airlines opted to continue suspending flights or reducing service, had a chilling effect on travel.

Yesterday Korean Air, which operates three flights weekly between Tel Aviv and Seoul, said it was suspending flights on the route until August 28, the Globes financial daily reported. It was the first carrier to suspend flights last month, two days before others did.

Low-cost Hungarian airline Wizz Air said it was cutting back service between Tel Aviv and some of its eastern European destinations.

Protective Edge started just as the peak summer tourism season was under way in what was expected to be a record year for arrivals. In the first half of the year, tourism arrivals had risen 18.4% from the same time in 2013, to 1.69 million, according to CBS figures.

The fighting also had the effect of discouraging Israelis from traveling abroad, as some 80,000 people were called for emergency reserve duty while others refused to leave the country at such a difficult time.

The CBS reported that the number of Israelis leaving the country for holidays in July was up just 2% to 644,000, a much smaller increase than the 12.2% jump in the first half of the year, when some 2.2 people went abroad.

Unlike incoming tourists, however, the outgoing tourism sector was already reporting a rebound in reservations for August as the fighting in Gaza has wound down.

The Tourism Ministry said yesterday it is preparing a marketing campaign aimed at luring foreign tourists back to Israel.

“With the goal of minimizing the damage and reducing the recovery time in the phase immediately after the war, the ministry will work with our traditional target groups, who emotionally identify with Israel – Jews and a wide range of Christians,” the ministry said.

It added that a later stage, depending on developments, it would expand marketing efforts toward niche groups and others based on criteria such as income and motivation to visit.

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