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In the face of the war, tourism plummets

By Etgar Lefkovits

Amid Israel’s war with the Hamas terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip, tourism is in a state of collapse with a 90% drop in visitors in November, according to Israel’s Tourism Ministry.

The precipitous plunge comes just as ministry officials had been expecting a near-record year for tourism following the global recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

A mere 38,000 tourists entered Israel last month, compared to 370,000 during the same period last year, the ministry’s figures show.

Sixteen thousand came from the US and nearly the same number from Europe.

The war, which broke out during the busiest tourism quarter of the year, which includes the Christmas holidays, has stunted annual tourism figures, which had been previously expected to reach four million this year, just half a million shy of the four-and-a-half million who visited in the record-breaking 2019.

Nearly three million tourists had come to Israel through the end of November this year, down from over four million in the same period in 2019 but still up from two-and-a-half million last year.

“We were getting close to the four million figure, but then the war came and stopped everything,” Tourism Ministry spokeswoman Anat Shihor-Aronson said Dec. 18. “Now we are getting ready for the day after [the war].”

She noted that no date had been set yet for “the day after,” and that everything was dependent on the security situation.

Hotels empty of tourists but full of evacuees

In the meantime, hotels in Israel are mostly filled with some 80,000 Israelis who had to evacuate from both the south and north of the country.

In all, about 200,000 Israelis have evacuated because of the war, including 130,000 by government order.

Of the 130,000 who were instructed to leave their homes, some 80,000 are staying at hotels on the government’s dime.

Three thousand are staying in government-subsidized short-term rental apartments and the remainder are staying in various communities with a per diem stipend that comes to 18,000 shekels ($4,912) a month for a family of four, the Ministry spokeswoman said.

The stipend was initiated by Tourism Minister Haim Katz as part of an effort to get the evacuees back to work.

However, for now, the majority of the country’s 56,000 hotel rooms are being used to house the evacuees, with the government paying the hotels over one billion shekels ($273 million) a month for the services.

“I would hope that hotels will be filled in the future with tourists and not evacuees,” said Shihior-Aronson.

Awaiting the day after

Even as tourism remains insignificant now, the ministry remains in close contact with its marketing agents abroad as well as with the Jewish community in the Diaspora and the largely supportive evangelical Christian community with an eye to the day after the war, the ministry spokeswoman said.

She noted that Lufthansa is scheduled to resume flights to Israel next month, along with its subsidiaries Swiss and Austrian Airlines, making it the one of the first major international carriers to announce a resumption of service in the aftermath of Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre. Delta is also likely to resume flights this spring, she said.

In the meantime, efforts are being made to keep the tourism industry’s 200,000 workers, including employees at Ben Gurion International Airport who are working on reduced shifts.

“Sooner or later we will need them,” she said.

“We have had crises in the past, and although they were shorter and smaller in scope, we will overcome,” she said. “The uniqueness of Israel as a tourist destination will always prevail.”



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