Israelis Avoiding Cyprus Due to Lebanese Refugees

Ophir Tours: Outgoing tourism this summer will be 30-40% less than originally expected

The war in the north has indirectly dealt a serious blow to Israeli tourism to Cyprus this summer, partly due to a desire to avoid running into refugees from Lebanon there.

According to a study carried out by TheMarker, the presence in Cyprus of significant numbers of war refugees, both Lebanese and foreign nationals, has led many Israeli vacationers to postpone or change their vacation plans.

In one case, a group cancelled its return flight and hired a private plane from Tamir Aviation for the duration of its stay in Cyprus to ensure a quick retreat if necessary.

Almost all organized tours from Cyprus to Israel have been cancelled.

The director of Cyprus Airways in Israel, Kobi Zussman, said Israelis have no reason to be anxious about vacationing in Cyprus. No warnings about traveling to the country have been issued by either the Foreign Ministry or the government's anti-terror unit.

Zussman says that this message was echoed by Israel's Ambassador to Cyprus, Zvi Cohen-Litant, during a recent conversation. Zussman also noted that the large numbers of foreign nationals for whom Cyprus was a transit point following their evacuation from Lebanon last month have long since left the island.

Zussman acknowledged that travel from Israel to Cyprus has dropped by about 30 percent since the war in Lebanon began. However, he stressed that Cyprus Airways increased its number of weekly flights on the route from five to seven before the fighting began, and is still running a daily flight between Israel and Cyprus.

According to Zussman, while there have been some cancellations they have not been "hysterical," and he attributed some of these to Israelis who were called to the army. He cited one group that cancelled its Cyprus vacation plans when eight would-be vacationers were called for reserve duty.

War changes Israelis' vacation plans

A million Israelis had been expected to crowd into Terminal 3 of Ben-Gurion Airport during the vacation months of July and August.  That was then. The now is that they are staying home.

Many were called up to reserves duty. Others want to stay close to home and family, and there have been warnings about anti-Israeli terror in Sinai and Turkey. The influx of Lebanese refugees to Cyprus also contributed to change the holiday patterns for Israelis this summer.

Turkey is usually one of the two most popular summer tourist destinations for Israelis (the United States is the other), but many canceled due to warnings against travel to Muslim countries.

Destinations that have not been affected by the downturn include New York, Europe, Bangkok and other Asian cities.

According to Yehuda Zafrani, vice president for marketing at Ophir Tours, outgoing tourism this summer will be 30 to 40 percent less than originally expected.

"August was less affected," ISSTA's VP of marketing, Ronen Carasso, said. He says most of the drop in outgoing tourism will be for August. Carasso puts the expected slide at 10 percent to 15 percent less than last year.