Hotel Stays by Foreign Tourists to Israel Up, but Still Lag

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The rooftop view from the Mamila Hotel in JerusalemCredit: Amit Geron

The number of night stays by foreign tourists at Israeli hotels in February rose by 4% over February of last year, but was still considerably lower than the rate of two years ago — before the Gaza war. The figures indicate that Israel’s tourism industry is still recovering from the impact of the war with Hamas and its allies in the summer of 2014 .

That war and its aftermath put a major damper on what started as a very strong year for foreign tourism in Israel. The number of nights foreign tourists spent in hotels in February 2014, before the summer’s fighting, is 21% higher than the same month two years later.

As in the past, however, last month too, Israelis gave the industry a boost. There was an 8% increase in the number of nights that Israelis spent in hotels in the country compared to February 2015. All told, foreign tourists and Israelis together generated 1.3 million nights at Israeli hotels, 6% more than February of 2015, but still 5% fewer than February 2014.

For his part, Noaz Bar-Nir, the CEO of the Israel Hotels Association, acknowledged that the industry has been helped along by stays by Israelis, who he said were attracted by aggressive discounting by hotels, but he said this was the first time the industry has faced a crisis in which the Tourism Ministry has not launched its own promotional campaign aimed at the Israeli consumer. For its part, ministry sources said they were willing to launch such a campaign but could not come to an agreement with the industry over its nature.

Tourism Ministry director general Amir Halevy said there is no crisis. Hotel stays by foreign tourists are up 4% despite the recent wave of violence in the country, he noted, adding that terrorism has become a problem affecting the Western world in general and people understand that there is no place that is perfectly safe.

The ministry was seeking to have the industry agree to promotional rates in the middle of the week of 400 shekels ($104) and 600 shekels on weekends for a double room and was demanding that there be no limitations on the number of rooms offered at those prices.

But the hotel industry resisted, saying that at those prices they would suffer a loss. Instead the hotel association launched its own campaign.

Hotel occupancy rates on average around the country were just 53% in February compared to 58% two years ago in February.

Hotels in Jerusalem recorded particularly low occupancy rates last month, at 47%, which was similar to the figure last year in February but lower than the 60% registered two years ago.

At Dead Sea hotels, the February occupancy rates averaged 64% this year and last, but they were 72% in February 2014.

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