Israeli Visitors Shun Jerusalem but Tourists Still Coming

Some business report 50% drop in traffic, but hotels say they have had few cancellations.

Olivier Fitoussi

Israeli visitors are staying away from Jerusalem, but foreign tourists are still winding their way through the Old City’s narrow streets and visiting holy sites, even as the city has been rattled by several days of violence.

Michael Weiss, chairman of the Tourism Forum, an umbrella group of 150 city businesses, said in a letter to Mayor Nir Barkat, said the number of customers had plunged 50% for member businesses since the bloodshed escalated.

“A check I have made over the last few days with scores of merchants, restaurateurs, site managers and hoteliers in Jerusalem presents a worrying picture: A drop of 50% in visitors, hotel guests, diners and others at a time that is not just the final days of the Sukkot holiday, but the final days of the peak season, and tourism falls to its lowest level of the year,” he said.

The forum’s Facebook page is filled with tour guides reporting cancellations. Shuki Hajdu said two groups had cancelled on him, Dorit Griever said three had cancelled and Ester Saad lost two groups that included overnight stays in the city. “Together it’s costing me 7,500 shekels [$1,950] in income,” she said.

Shmulik Ben-Moshe, CEO of the popular Mamilla shopping mall just outside the Old City walls, said traffic was down but not by large numbers. “There’s been a drop but not a big one and, all told, Sukkot was okay,” he said.

By contrast, at Hamotzi, a downtown restaurant that caters mostly to an Israeli clientele, business was down by half, but Avi Levi, one of the owners, said the atmosphere was better than last summer when Operation Protective Edge was underway.

“During Protective Edge there was a sense that the situation would only get worse and the impact on business was catastrophic,” he said. “This time around it won’t last as long like Protective Edge, so I’m optimistic about the future.”

“We know that if you’re going to work in Jerusalem, it means working in peaks and valleys because of what happens here,” he said.

The violence has won extensive media coverage overseas, but from talks with sources in the tourism industry its impact of foreign visitors has been minimal. The Fattal Hotels chain said it had received only a few isolated cancellations and occupancy levels for October are normal for this time of the year.

Dan Hotels reported much the same situation, with occupancy levels high for the month, although he warned that could change if the situation deteriorates further.

“Reservations at Dan hotels in Jerusalem is steady and we’re getting new reservations,” said Rafi Be’eri, vice president for marketing and sales. “It seems that anyone who was supposed to be coming in October already has an airline ticket and the airlines insist on a cancellation fee, so people don’t cancel.”