Pilgrim Cities Lead Rise in Hotel Stays

The number of hotel overnight stays in Jerusalem was up 15% in June, compared with a year earlier, to 277,000.

Tourism by Christian pilgrims is enjoying a great awakening, if the number of hotel stays in their traditional destinations of Jerusalem and Tiberias is any evidence.

The number of hotel overnight stays in Jerusalem was up 15% in June, compared with a year earlier, to 277,000, the Central Bureau of Statistics said on Monday. In the seaside down of Tiberias, growth was even higher, with the number of overnight stays jumping 22% to 55,600.

In Nazareth, another key destination of Christian pilgrims, growth was more modest - an 11% increase year on year.

But even Nazareth's increase exceeded the national average for hotel overnight stays by foreign tourists, which rose 8% last month from a year earlier to 801,000, the statistics bureau said.

For the first six months of the year, overnight stays at hotels barely changed, declining 1% among foreign tourists but rising 5.6% among Israelis. Hotel occupancy rates across Israel were about 64% in the first half of the year, unchanged from the same period in 2011. In Tel Aviv, occupancy rates led the country, at close to 74%.

"The increase in the number of Israel hotel stays proves that when they are offered at basically attractive terms and during relative geopolitical calm, there is high demand both among foreign tourists and Israelis," said Ami Federman, chairman of the Israel Hotel Association.

All Israeli tourism cities registered increases in overnight stays for the first half of the year, with Nazareth leading the rise with a 52% increase from a year earlier to 45,400. Netanya saw a 22% increase in the six months to 80,500.

A new development in the Israeli tourism industry is Russian visitors arriving from Crete for one-day visits. These tourists come to Israel as part of a tour package or as a breakaway trip they pay for on their own. The flights are operated by the Greek charter carrier Aegean Airlines.