Despite Gaza War, Visitor Numbers to Israel Fell Only 1% in 2014

A record 14.2 million passengers passed through Ben-Gurion International Airport, buoyed by a strong first half of the year.

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Beach goers run for cover as air raid sirens, warning of incoming rockets, sound in Tel Aviv July 8, 2014.
Beach goers run for cover as air raid sirens, warning of incoming rockets, sound in Tel Aviv July 8, 2014.Credit: Reuters

The number of foreign visitors who spent at least one night in Israel declined by just 1% last year despite the downturn following the summer war against Hamas and its allies in the Gaza Strip.

The year began with tourist traffic well higher than in 2013, and despite the meltdown when the 50-day war commenced on July 8, the number of foreign visitors was off only 7% compared to 2013 when day visitors are included, the Tourism Ministry said.

A 30% drop that followed the outbreak of the fighting later shrank to about 20%.

Either way, it was a banner year for Ben-Gurion International Airport, with a record 14.2 million passengers passing through on arriving or departing flights, the Israel Airports Authority said. The figure was 6% higher than for 2013. Many of the passengers were Israelis, not just foreign visitors.

A total of 3.3 million foreign visitors arrived in the country in 2014, about 400,000 arriving without spending a night in Israel.

As is the case every year, the United States produced the largest number of foreign visitors — about 630,000, roughly 1% more than in 2013. Americans represented 19% of all visitors to the country.

In second place was Russia, with about 570,000 visitors, but Russian tourist numbers shrank toward the end of the year amid that country's financial woes marked by economic sanctions, sharply lower oil prices and a badly sagging ruble.

French arrivals represented the third largest group, at about 300,000 visitors. Germany and Britain came next on the list.

Jerusalem was the top destination for visitors from overseas; about 82% of them visited the city. Tel Aviv placed second at 67%, with the Dead Sea region coming in third at 54%. Tiberias and Lake Kinneret were fourth at 38%, followed by the rest of the northern Galilee region at 34%.

Meanwhile, Israelis collectively spent about 17 million nights at hotels and guesthouses, 3% higher than in 2013.

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