Foreign Tourism in Israel Still Hasn’t Fully Recovered From 2014 Gaza War, Say Hoteliers

Nazareth, Netanya hit hardest, while Eilat, Tiberias and Herzliya show growth.

Crown Plaza Hotel in Eilat.

Data on hotel stays by foreign visitors to Israel for the first half of the year signal trouble, the Israel Hotel Association warned Tuesday.

The numbers of nights spent in the country’s hotels by foreign visitors for the first half of the year were similar to the first half of 2015, the association said, but those numbers reflected a 24% decline from the first half of 2014.

The number of hotel nights spent by foreign tourists doesn’t necessarily track the number of foreign visitors in the country, it should be noted, particularly as a result of the increasing popularity of internet-based businesses such as Airbnb, which pair visitors looking for short-term apartment or home rentals and foreign tourists.

Overall, however, foreign tourist arrivals did in fact decline markedly in the second half of 2014, after the outbreak of the war between Israel and Hamas and its allies in Gaza, which saw rockets fired from Gaza at major population centers in Israel. The rockets were largely intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system, but tourist arrivals dropped not only during the war, but in its aftermath.

For the first half of 2014, foreign guests spent 5.5 million hotel nights in the country. For the first half of this year, by comparison, foreign tourists spent a collective 4.1 million nights at Israeli hotels, which came on top of the 6 million hotel nights spent by Israeli guests. (The figure for Israeli guests in the first half of this year was actually 1% higher than the period last year and 9% higher than the January to June period in 2014).

The hotel occupancy rate in the country as a whole was 60% for the first half of 2016, a 1% improvement over the first six months of last year but a 9% drop compared to the first half of 2014.

Hotel Association CEO Noaz Bar-Nir said even though two years had elapsed since the fighting in Gaza, hotels in many areas are still experiencing a crisis in their foreign tourist business. Nationwide hotel occupancy rates, which include Israeli and foreign guests, are low, he said, and the occupancy numbers are particularly weak in Jerusalem, Nazareth, Tiberias and Netanya.

Hotels in the country, he said, need government assistance at least to ease the regulatory requirements they face. Bar-Nir expressed the hope, however, that a tourism advertising campaign in markets abroad will restore hotel stays by foreign tourists to their levels before the war in the summer of 2014.

The largest drop in hotel occupancy by foreign visitors for the first half of this year was in Netanya, which fell 17% compared to the first half of 2015. Nazareth saw a 10% drop. Tel Aviv and Jerusalem experienced a 2% drop, while the number of nights spent by foreign tourists in Haifa was 1% lower for the first half of this year compared to the period last year.

On the other hand, Eilat saw a 16% increase in the number of nights spent in the city’s hotels by foreign visitors. Hotels in Tiberias and around the Sea of Galilee saw a 2% increase. In Herzliya, just north of Tel Aviv, which has seen a major increase recently in the number of hotel rooms in the city, the 116,000 hotel night stays by foreign tourists for the first six months of the year represented a 22% increase over the period last year. The figure was 26% higher than the January to June period in 2014.