Study: When War Breaks Out, Count on the Jewish Tourist

Tourists to Israel are more likely to brave war or terrorism to visit family or do business - or to come just because they are Jewish.

Eyal Toueg

When the going gets tough because of war or terrorism, who are the tourists Israel can count on?

According to a Bank of Israel study released on Tuesday, they are visitors coming to the country to see family or do business. Jewish tourists are also more likely to ignore security problems as are people who have visited before, the central bank said.

Non-Jewish tourists, pilgrims in particular, are more likely to cancel a trip, as are ordinary vacationers, especially those coming on package tours, the bank said, citing figures for the decade to 2010.

Why some groups of tourists are more sensitive than others has to do with the options they have, the bank said. “Pilgrimage tourists and those coming for sightseeing and excursions can easily choose alternative destinations, while tourists coming for business and family visits have fewer destination options,” it said.

The study covers a time when Israel suffered an intifada, a month-long war in Lebanon, multiple conflicts with Hamas in the Gaza Strip and violence just over the border related to the Arab Spring. The effect was huge fluctuations in tourist arrivals, creating a difficult business environment for an important industry.

Israel’s travel and tourism industry employed 110,000 people, giving it greater weight in the economy than its contribution to gross domestic product would indicate. That is because the industry is labor intensive, creating lots of badly needed jobs for people with no academic degree who live in areas of relatively high unemployment outside the center of the country.

The bank found that in 2002, the peak of the second intifada, when overall tourism arrivals plunged to just 862,000, the percentage of people visiting Israel who described themselves as tourists dropped to 22% of the total, from 39% two years earlier, before the violence erupted. The percentage identifying themselves as Jews jumped to 55% in 2002, from 20% in 2000, while the percentage saying they were visiting for business grew to 20%, from 12%.

Associated Press stories tagged “war and unrest” related to Israel and the region were used in the study to chart the public’s perception of Israel’s security situation at any given time. Only those stories reporting breaking news of terror attacks showed a direct correlation with tourism.

There is no evidence that tourists were positively influenced to visit Israel by media stories covering other aspects of the country, such as lifestyle, but business travel grew in response to positive economic coverage of the country, the bank said.

The bank said economic variables, such as the shekel exchange rate, only influenced tourist arrivals when Israel’s security situation was quiet.