Tourism Industry Puts Brave Face on Unrest Fallout

Irit Rosenblum
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Irit Rosenblum

Yesterday's violence surrounding Nakba Day and the impending possibility that the Palestinians may declare a state may damage the country's incoming tourism over the next several months, industry sources said yesterday.

"Tourism will decrease through the end of the year and ultimately there will be 10% fewer tourists in 2011 than there were in 2010, assuming that the political and security situation doesn't get worse," said Ami Etgar, director general of the Israel Incoming Tour Operators Association.

Protesters at the border fence in Majdal Shams, May 15, 2011. Credit: Yaron Kaminsky

"We believe the chain of events will have a negative effect on incoming tourism," he said." The question is whether things will stop here or get worse, but there's no question that they've had an effect."

While the numbers of incoming tourists continued to increase through the first quarter of the year, as they had throughout 2010, the trend has reversed, although it's too early to say to what extent, he said.

Meanwhile, there are fewer groups signing up for tours in the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012, he said.

"People will be waiting to see what happens in the Middle East as a whole and in Israel in particular, and aren't rushing to make reservations," he said. Israel Hotel Association president Ami Federmann said he hoped the Nakba Day protests would not affect tourism.

"It depends on what happens in the next few weeks or months," said Federmann, who is also deputy chairman of the board of the Dan Hotels Corporation. "If this was a one-time event, it won't seriously affect tourism," he said.

The head of incoming tourism at Eshet Incoming (Israel ), Amnon Ben David, said he agreed with Federmann but added that the instability in the Middle East had already impacted tourism this year and in 2012.

Yet there were no cancelations yesterday, said Dov Sarid, head of incoming tourism for Diesenhaus Unitours. "Tourism responds slowly," he said, adding that it would be a few days before anyone would know whether Sunday's events would have an effect.

However, Benny Sivan, CEO of International Group Travel, said he had a group of 100 tourists who were considering canceling a trip scheduled for November due to the unrest in the Middle East. "The recent events haven't helped," he added.