Israel's Tourism Industry in Crisis Due to Latest Round of Violence

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A tourist takes a selfie with the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount, Jerusalem, Oct. 21, 2015.Credit: Aimee Rose

Israel’s tourism industry is in a crisis, with incoming tourism lower now than it was even after Operation Protective Edge last November.

According to Central Bureau of Statistics data, some 209,000 tourists came to Israel in November, down 4.6% from November 2014, and down a full 18.5% from November 2013 – before Operation Protective Edge.

Before the current wave of terror began in October, it seemed as though Israel’s incoming tourism was slowly on the mend. Incoming tourism in September was 6% higher than in October 2013; and figures for August were close to what they were for August 2013.

However, things reversed course in October, as dozens of widely-covered terror attacks hit Israeli cities. The impact on incoming tourism was immediate. October tourism was 14.5% lower than the figure for October 2013, but still higher than in 2014.

Yet the recently released figures for November indicate that the downward trend has continued.

The figures for November hotel stays, published yesterday, add further backing to this trend. Hotels reported 699,000 hotel stays for the month, 11% less than in November 2014, when the tourism industry was already feeling the full effects of Operation Protective Edge, and a full 28% less than in November 2013.

Following the wave of terror that broke out in October, the United States has issued a travel warning for Israel.

“We just began to recover from Operation Protective Edge, and now there’s another crisis,” said Noaz Bar Nir, head of the Israel Hotel Association. “Reports from the field indicate there aren’t many reservations for the upcoming months and that tour organizers abroad are waiting until things quiet down here,” he said, calling for a massive PR campaign to encourage tourism from around the world.

Ilanit Melchior, who is responsible for tourism at the Jerusalem Development Authority, said past experience shows that tourism needs to be actively encouraged. Her authority talks with the Tourism Ministry on a daily basis in order to find creative solutions to make sure tourists keep coming, she said.

Melchior noted that there are opportunities in the tourism crises facing other countries in the region. For instance, Russian tourists are avoiding Turkey and Egypt now, she noted.

“We can offer them an alternative,” she noted, adding that her authority and its Tel Aviv peer organization are promoting reduced price tourism packages to Russian tourists.

The authority is also investing money and resources to bring high-profile conferences to Jerusalem, she added, noting that five are already scheduled for next year.

Michael Weiss, the head of the Jerusalem Tourism Forum, said his food tour initiative saw 30% fewer reservations in October, and 15-20% less in November and December.

“December should be a good month, but we’re seeing that people are choosing not to tour Jerusalem,” he said. Some tourism service providers are seeing even sharper drops, he noted.

“When Operation Protective Edge ended, at least the reservations started coming back, since the war had an end date. But now we don’t have even that,” he said, referring to the terror wave.

Abraham Hostel in Jerusalem, which caters to individual tourists as opposed to tourist groups, said November was its weakest month in four years. “For hostels, the decline began in October and continued through November. We’re not seeing cancellations, we’re not even hearing from people who want to know if it’s safe to come – people simply aren’t making reservations,” said Yaron Burgin, the hostel’s owner. The hostel was at 50% capacity last month, he added.

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