Chinese Tourism to Israel Rose 67% in First Half of 2019

Growth returns after Beijing travel warning, set after Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, deterred visitors in 2018

A Chinese Hainan Airlines plane, August 16, 2018.

The Chinese aren’t just building ports and buying power stations in Israel. They’re also coming as tourists in record numbers, figures released by the Tourism Ministry on Wednesday showed.

The number of Chinese tourists jumped 67% to 84,000 in the first half of the year from the same time in 2018 and the number for June alone was up 100% from a year ago to about 14,000, the ministry said.

It’s been a bumpy rise to record arrivals. The launch of direct flights between Israel and China, most notably by China’s Hainan Airlines, led to a big increase in Chinese tourism in 2017 and 2018. But U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital caused Beijing to issue a travel advisory for Israel.

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The slump was felt last year with an 8% decline in arrivals from China compared with 2017 – just 105,000. This year, tourism officials expect to pass the 100,000-mark in July, exceeding the annual target the Tourism Ministry set three years ago.

Chinese tourism remains small amid record arrivals to Israel in recent years. Overall, the number of arrivals in the first half of 2019 reached 2.265 million, a 9.8% rise from a year earlier.

The Tourism Ministry estimated that foreign travelers contributed 11.7 billion shekels ($3.3 billion) to the economy so far this year.

The growth of Chinese tourism may stall due to a slowing economy, the trade war with the U.S. and weakening currency. Chinese citizens made 150 million border crossings last year and are crucial to the global travel market, accounting for about a fifth of tourism spending worldwide, according to the United Nations’ World Tourism Organization. But in the first quarter of 2019 they spent 10% less than they did a year earlier.

Many now choose domestic holidays or to downgrade to lower-cost destinations.