North Blames Weather Hype for Sluggish Sukkot

Gloomy weather forecasts frightened people away from the Upper Galilee and Golan Heights over this week's Sukkot holiday, dampening hopes for a booming week of tourism, local tourism professionals said yesterday.

Both locales saw a surge of visitors over the two-day Rosh Hashanah holiday, and had therefore hoped for a real bonanza over the eight days of Sukkot. However, after forecasters predicted a cold and rainy week in the north, many people decided to stay home.

Yet so far, the dismal forecasts have not materialized.

"The weather here is marvelous," said Avshalom Zadok, who runs the Tzuk Manara site. "There is sun and the temperatures are comfortable. But hundreds of people from all over the country called and said they were afraid of cold, rainy weather. They didn't believe us that it's lovely here; they said they had heard a different forecast. The grim forecasts caused people to stay home; they were reluctant to go out."

On Wednesday, the first day of Hol Hamo'ed (the intermediate days of the festival), the number of visitors to Tzuk Manara was about 20 percent - or several hundred people - lower than on the same day last year, Zadok said. Yesterday was a little better, but still well below last year's figures.

"To our surprise, Rosh Hashanah was very good, even compared to last year," he noted. "In light of this, our forecasts for Sukkot were optimistic, and they were bolstered when many people called us. The problem was that the weather forecast hurt us."

Zadok said that after talking with colleagues throughout the area, he had concluded that "the same was true at all the other sites. Traffic was very slow, solely because of the weather forecasts - and on the very nicest days, of all things."

"They frightened people for no reason," he complained of the forecasters. "They predicted dramatic drops in temperatures. But what could be more suitable and magical than these beautiful days?"

Ronen Gilboa, of Kibbutz Ein Zivan Tours in the Golan Heights, echoed Zadok's complaints. "The forecasters hurt us," he said. "They spoke about a flood, but here, there was nothing - truly pleasant weather, perhaps a little cool."

Guesthouse occupancy rates throughout the Golan are at about 70 percent, he said, whereas a year ago, they were almost 100 percent. "People heard the forecasts, called us and canceled their reservations. They said they weren't coming because of the weather."

In the Western Galilee, guesthouse occupancy rates were down 10 to 15 percent compared to last year, though tourist attractions said that yesterday saw heavier traffic than Wednesday. But Tami Attiya, of the Western Galilee Tourist Association, did not lay all the blame on the weather forecasts: Fear of recession, she said, also played a role.

Nevertheless, she urged people not to let that stop them. "Most sites in the Western Galilee are free," she said. "This is the last chance to get out before the winter. People mustn't shut themselves in their houses because of a temporary mood."