Russia surpasses US in number of tourists to Israel


After many years of being the country to send the highest number of tourists to Israel, the United States has been beaten recently by Russia, according to the statistics department at the Israeli Tourism Ministry.

October saw the arrival of 58,243 tourists from Russia – an 18% rise compared to October 2008. The number of American tourists who arrived in October was 49,321 – a 9% rise compared to same month last year.

The data show that 456,529 tourists arrived from the US between January and October of 2009 – a 12% drop compared to the same period in 2008. However, due to a similar drop in the overall number of tourists who entered Israel during the first 10 months of the year, the US maintained the first place, constituting 20% of all tourists arriving in Israel.

Nonetheless, tourism from Russia leaped by 15% over the same period, making up about 14.5% of all tourists arriving in Israel, compared to only 11% during the same period in 2008.

About 25% of all Russian tourists who arrived in Israel in October came for a one-day visit. Some arrived on flights from Turkey in the early morning hours and left the country late at night, while others entered Israel for a one-day visit through the border crossing in the southern city of Eilat.

Shabtai Shay, general manager of the Eilat Hotel Association, says that some 60,000 tourists from Russia are expected to arrive in Eilat this winter, 15,000 of them on direct flights from Moscow and St. Petersburg. The rest will arrive on flights landing at Ben-Gurion Airport. The flights are operated by the Aeroflot, Arkia and Sun d’Or airlines.

“The great investment in Russia is yielding results and there are requests for additional flights,” says Shay, noting that the hotel stays of Russian tourists since the beginning of the year constituted some 26% of all tourist stays in Eilat. The Russian tourists’ stays in Eilat were in the second place after French tourists.

Shay notes that 25 travel agents from Tallinn, Estonia are currently visiting Eilat due to the new weekly direct flight to the resort town.

“According to the plan, 20 direct flights will leave from Estonia to Israel this winter, but in light of the line’s success, another airline has already asked to operate 10 additional direct flights from Estonia to Eilat this winter,” Shay says.