Is the situation in southern Israel and the Gaza Strip causing tourists to flee? Apparently not. Will incoming tourism suffer in the long run? It’s too early to tell.
In the meantime, tourism industry officials, like everyone else, are hoping that the violence ends as soon as possible with as few casualties as possible.
According to Tourism Ministry figures, some 35,000 tourists are currently visiting Israel every day. A ministry official said Monday that “so far we have not received reports on tourists who have called off their vacation or left the country due to the events.
“Representatives of the Tourism Ministry are in direct and continuous contact with all tourism industry elements in Israel and abroad, through the managers of the tourism bureaus located in different countries, and are holding daily evaluations of the situation.
“The ministry would like to clarify that the military operation is taking place in the Gaza Strip and the western Negev, which are far from Israel’s tour and vacation sites, and thus there is no reason for people not to continue their visit to Israel.”
‘We must let time pass’
Ami Etgar, general manager of the Israel Incoming Tour Operators Association, estimates that there are currently 70,000 tourists in Israel. So far, there have been no cancellations or departures by tourists staying in Israel.
According to Etgar, there are a few reasons for this: First, “the events are not taking place in areas which are popular among tourists – Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Nazareth, the Lake Kinneret area – as opposed to the Second Lebanon War, for example.”
Second, most tour organizers and travel agencies have only just resumed their operations after the Christmas holiday, so it is still too early to say that there won’t be any cancellations.
Third, as it is still unclear where the events are headed – to an escalation or a relative state of calm – people who have booked vacations in Israel are waiting to see what will happen before deciding whether to come here or now.
In any case, one must remember that the winter seasons is usually a low season in terms of incoming tourism to Israel.
Etgar refused to say whether tourism would suffer, and how much. “We’re not prophets. Things depend on what will happen in the coming days. We must let time pass.”
He added, however that “we must remember events happen anywhere in the world, and that the recuperation pace today is usually very quick. The world returns to normal activity. Israel has a very strong power of attraction. If things calm down, tourism will return very fast. After all, there is a lot of profitability here both for the Palestinians and us.
“Even if we suffer in the short term – and we still don’t know if we will – we hope to recover fast. This is what happened in the past. The recuperation from the Second Lebanon War (which ended in August), for example, took place in September-October.”
Ashkelon hotels emptied out
The Israel Hotel Association reported that hotels in Ashkelon have been emptied out completely and are not functioning. Hotels in the rest of the country, however, have not seen cancellations in tourist stays so far following the situation in the south.
“The situation in Ashkelon isn’t good,” a representative of the Dan Hotels said. The chain’s hotel in the city has not been closed, but it’s empty and is not working on regular capacity.
At the Holiday Inn Crown Plaza in Ashkelon there are no serene tourists walking around, but it’s open and active. Ahuva Lif, Africa Israel Hotels’ media advisor, explained that “in light of its location in the northern part of the city and as it has an abundance of fortified areas, a lot of media crews have been staying there since Sunday evening – both foreign and Israeli.”