Tourists Not Canceling Winter Trips to Israel, but Officials Prepare for the Worst

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Indonesian tourists visit the Old City of Jerusalem, March 1, 2015. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Even though the upsurge in Palestinian violence is nearly a month old, tourism executives said Sunday the events were having little effect on winter reservations.

But the Tourism Ministry isn’t taking any chances and has unveiled a series of steps to head off any crisis.

“We’re seeing a slowdown in new [hotel] reservations by individual tourists for the winter but among tour groups we haven’t witnessed any slowdown at all,” said Yossi Fattal, chairman of the Jerusalem Hotels Association. He was speaking at an emergency meeting called by the Tourism Ministry's director general, Amir Levy.

“People are calling and are worried, but they haven’t canceled. If we act like ‘business as usual’ we can overcome the problem,” Fattal said. Still, he said he was concerned that, paradoxically, cancellations might begin once the crisis had died down. In the meantime, it was Israelis doing the canceling.

Credit: Haaretz

Ilanit Melchior, who runs tourism operations at the Jerusalem Development Authority, agreed.

Figures from the Central Bureau of Statistic for September showed that 225,000 tourists arrived last month, a 25% jump from a year earlier when the industry had yet to recover from the Gaza war that summer. But the figure was also 6% higher than in September 2013.

The Israel Airports Authority said traffic at Ben-Gurion International Airport was up 34% in September at 1.65 million travelers, though much of the increase was due to a surge of Israelis traveling abroad. The figures predate the October 6 attack on the Henkin family that exploded into large-scale unrest.

Another factor is the High Holiday season, a big draw of Jewish tourists. More of that period fell in September this year, not October.

In any case, 2015 had been a poor year for the tourism industry even beforehand, with arrivals down 5.6% from a year ago to 2.1 million arrivals.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said his ministry planned to launch new marketing efforts in Italy, the United States and Brazil in the coming to encourage travel to Israel. Under the plan, leaders in the industry will be invited to Israel, with the number of events of interest to tourists increased.

Officials said they would also try to coordinate with the security forces to make it easier for tour groups and buses to pass through checkpoints. The ministry said it would also back a proposal for the tour guides associations to offer free tours at major sites as a way of helping nearby businesses and supporting the ministry’s “business as usual” strategy.

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