Israel's Tourism Industry Braces for Fallout From Fighting in North

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A horse walks in the snow at the base of Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights in Israel, near the Syria border, Dec. 17, 2013.Credit: Reuters

Israel’s tourism industry is bracing for the economic fallout from the clashes with Hezbollah in the north, with some fearing a potentially significant blow to an industry that has yet to fully recover from the summer’s Gaza war.

Two Israeli soldiers and a United Nations peacekeeper were killed in missile and artillery fire near the Israel-Lebanon border on Wednesday, after Israeli authorities shut down the Mount Hermon ski resort earlier this week due to tensions in the area.

Bat Chen Yeshua, one of the owners of the Travel Hotel chain, said the closure seriously damaged Galilee tourism.

“If they hadn’t closed the Hermon we would still be okay,” she said. “But customers who were coming especially to climb the mountain came back empty handed. Now, because of the escalation, we’ve started getting calls from people asking to cancel their reservation for the next few days. They don’t want to reschedule a new date.”

A longtime tourism industry official said the situation in the north was "worrisome," adding: “There might be escalation and deterioration in the security situation in the north. Nobody knows what’s going to happen yet.”

He said foreign airlines were expressing anxiety over the security of their passenger flights to and from Israel due to the escalation in the north, but Israeli airlines have not reported cancellations.

“[It’s] still too early to talk about a wave of cancellations of flights to Israel,” said the industry official, who asked not to be named. “We have to wait and see how things develop in the coming hours.”

During the summer’s fighting with Gaza, some foreign airlines temporarily cancelled their flights to Israel after a rocket landed in Yehud, not far from Ben-Gurion Airport.

The number of tourist arrivals to Israel last year fell 8%, to 3.3 million, with the drop reaching 20% in the second half of the year after the Gaza war.

There has already been a decrease in travel to the north over the past week.

Avraham Neuberg, marketing manager for the online reservation site Nofshim, said about 80% of reservation made for hotels and beds and breakfasts in the north had been canceled in the last few days. Almost no new reservations are being made, he added.

Eran Bar-On, director of the Kfar Giladi Hotel near the Lebanese border, tried to put a positive spin on the situation by noting that in his area the situation was relatively quiet. The fighting is occurring in the Har Dov area in the Golan Heights.

“The problem is that in Israel they see the Upper Galilee as one area, so what happens in Har Dov affects all of us,” he said. “The guests staying at the hotel right now haven’t asked to leave, but of course we’ve gotten phone calls from guests who were supposed to arrive this weekend and canceled their reservations.”

He estimated that the hotel would be half-occupied this weekend, rather than at 100% occupancy, as he had expected. “I only hope we don’t go any lower than this,” Bar-On said.

Meanwhile, Haifa and Rosh Pina airports have reopened for commercial flights after temporarily shutting down Tuesday. However, takeoffs and landings by private planes are still prohibited.

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