Israel's Tourism Sector Sees Little Fallout From Terror Attacks

Although Israel has been beset by a steady wave of attacks since October, they’re attracting little attention in the global media.

Filipino tourists dance near Jaffa gate at Jerusalem's Old City, January 9, 2016.
Reuters

For Israel’s tourism industry, last Tuesday’s terror attack was terrible publicity: An American tourist stabbed to death on the Tel Aviv beach promenade just a short distance from where visiting Vice President Joe Biden was holding a meeting.

From a business perspective, the timing was awful, too: The attack occurred just as the ITB Berlin international travel convention was getting under way.

But Israeli tourism officials said Wednesday that they expected little if any fallout from the attack in which Taylor Force, an MBA student at Vanderbilt University, was murdered.

Although Israel has been beset by a steady wave of attacks since October, they’re attracting little attention in the global media.

“No one has told me they intend to change their plans to bring groups to Israel,” said Yossi Fattal, director of Israel Incoming Tour Operators Association. “In the United States, [the attacks] got some mention but no more than that. They are preoccupied more than anything else with the elections.”

In fact, Israeli tourism has been in the doldrums since Operation Protective Edge, which broke out in the summer of 2014, the peak of the travel season. Last year, the industry still hadn’t recovered, with arrivals down 4.3 percent from 2014. In the first two months of this year, a low point for the season, they edged up 0.4 percent from a year ago but were still down a sharp 15.5 percent from the first two months of 2014.

A big part of the drop has come from Russia, which was the second biggest source of incoming tourism to Israel until Western sanctions and plunging oil prices pushed the Russian economy into recession. In January-February, the number of Russian tourists was down 50 percent from two years ago and 26 percent from 2015.

Speaking from the IBT convention, Fattal said he was encountering few people at the Israeli exhibit who were asking about the attacks. “I can understand that. When we hear about a shooting at a New York school, we don’t cancel our reservations there. Terror is no longer an exclusively Israeli problem,” Fattel said.

Oded Grofman, head of marketing for the Israel Hotels Association, said the talk about terror attacks at IBT was coming from Israelis.

“I’ve sat with the airlines Germania and Air Berlin, and none of them even raised the subject. I don’t know if that’s just good manners or something else, but they didn’t talk about it, even though it was certain they would. The big German tour operators only talk about how we can move forward to bring more traffic to Israel.”

Grofman said that at IBT, only one tour operator, a Swede, expressed concern.

Jerusalem has borne the brunt of recent terror attacks, most recently one on Tuesday that left a man badly wounded. As a result Arie Sommer, director of the city’s hotel association, admitted he had expected to have meetings he had scheduled at IBT canceled at the last minute and to be offering people reassurance. But nothing of the sort happened.

“The only explanation I have is that it’s us who consume news about Israel all the time. I’m not sure people [overseas] are so exposed to it and that it captures headlines,” he said.

Still, Fattal warned, the situation could change rapidly. “We’re walking on a knife’s edge and it could turn into a crisis,” he said.