The continued fighting in the south has kept Israeli tourists at home, and foreign visitors out, exacerbating the already beleaguered incoming tourism industry. As a result, foreign airlines have begun lowering air fares.
Brussels Airlines, for instance, has announced a special discount on flight tickets on its Brussels-Ben-Gurion Airport-Brussels route, which are going for just 200 euro inclusive of taxes, instead of 400 euro.
Sources in the tourism industry have also expressed concern about the falling number of tourists from Turkey.
Holiday Lines travel agency say that there has been a natural drop of about 20% in the number of holiday reservations to Anatalia for the coming two weeks, but that longer term travel plans have not been affected. Although industry sources say that the drop is seasonal, affecting winter months, charter flights will nevertheless be suspended early this year, starting this Thursday.
Meanwhile, knowledgeable sources warn that pilgrimage tourism to Israel in 2009 will suffer due to prevailing high hotel prices. The national airline of the Republic of Georgia, Air Zena, has canceled four charter flights especially chartered for pilgrims in recent days.
"We have been forced to chancel the flights because the leaders of the prayer groups announced that the are unwilling to travel," Air Zena's chief executive said.
And there are other problems. "There have been complaints in the past about the high price of plane tickets, due to low capacity. Now the price of charter flights has dropped, and there are enough flights, but the price of ground services has increased 25%-30%," says Sun d'Or airline's CEO Bezalel Karvat.
Karvat has called on the Tourism Ministry to "wake up quickly, before the annual conference of Vatican travel agents in Rome in mid-January, where pilgrim travel preferences for 2009 will be decided."
Tourism Ministry spokesperson Shira Kaveh says that 2008 was an all-time record year for tourism in Israel, when some 3 million visitors came to the country, up 30% from the year before. This increase has resulted in a rise in the price of flight tickets, services, hotels, tourist attractions, restaurants and travel services.
"The Ministry of Tourism is taking steps to address all of these aspects, and offer assistance to groups wishing to visit Israel, to find appropriate solutions."
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