North's Tourism Industry Braces for Recession

The migrating birds are obviously not bothered by the cloud of impending recession, says Eli Galili, who takes visitors from place to place in a wagon to observe birds at Lake Agmon in the Hula Valley. "The cranes have not taken over the area yet en masse, and there is a variety of birds - pelicans, storks, kingfishers, plovers raptors and others," Galili said.

The birds will soon begin winging their way south to Africa for the winter. When they return, they may find people more worried than they are now.

The global market crash is increasing concern among the north's tourism industry that it will be facing a recession. Credit will tighten, people will take losses on their investments and they will spend less money on vacations.

The director of tourism at Lake Agmon, Kobi Samerano, said the first stages of a recession can already be felt: "The large companies, government ministries, schools and workers committees already have begun to cut expenditures. High-tech companies, for example, have cut recreation days from their budgets from hundreds of dollars per worker to about $80."

On the other hand, Samerano says, "We haven't felt any downturn yet among families and individual travelers. Israelis are enjoying themselves and vacationing as if there's no tomorrow. The individual doesn't see the recession yet. The bed-and-breakfasts are full even though the prices have gone up.

Sigal Barag, the director of the Manara Cliff tourism complex, which offers a cable car and other attractions, says she is also worried about a recession. "Some companies would spend a lot of money, and they're already cutting expenditures," she says, with funding for workers' recreational activities the first to go. Barag also says that even individual vacationers are being more careful about what they spend and are looking for discounts and package deals.

According to the head of the Golan tourism association, Shmulik Hazan, the real test for tourism in the region will come at the end of the year, when major employers spend their remaining budgets for employee recreation. He says that for the time being, the bed-and-breakfasts are full, and people in the industry are happy with business.

The head of the Upper Galilee tourism association, Anat Nissim, says she thinks the tourism industry actually will benefit from a recession, because there will be more domestic tourism.

"People will continue to take vacations, they'll just lower their level. People who usually go abroad will stay in Israel, and those in Israel who went to expensive hotels will go to cheaper ones," she says. However, Nissim concedes, "Worry over a recession is something we are talking about and getting ready for."