Israel’s tourism industry experienced a rebound and recovery in 2015 from the negative aftereffects of Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014 despite the difficulties.
“This past year was challenging because we were still recovering from Operation Protective Edge, but we were very successful as we almost reached the numbers we had in 2013,” Tourism Ministry spokesperson Anat Shihor-Aronson told Tazpit Press Service (TPS).
The recovery was particularly difficult because Operation Protective Edge occurred during what is usually high-season for tourism. “The tourism industry took a while to recover after Operation Protective Edge because the operation was conducted in the middle of the summer, which is usually the peak of the tourism season,” Shihor-Aronson explained.
Despite the uphill battle, only a 3% decrease in tourism was recorded this past year compared to the year 2014 when a record-breaking number of tourists visited during the first six months of the year. In fact, the number of visitors to Israel from several countries even increased this year.
“We still saw an increase in the overall number of tourists who came from the United States, France and England,” Shihor-Aronson noted.
Israel also experienced an increase in domestic tourism as a result of Operation Protective Edge. “Domestic tourism also went up by by 8%, a significant increase since 2014,” Shihor-Aronson added. “After Operation Protective Edge, people didn’t want to travel abroad and stayed in Israel instead.”
Flights to Eilat have increased as well, which is important because of the city’s isolation from much of the rest of Israel. “There were two to four flights a week last year to Eilat,” Shihor-Aronson told TPS. “Today, we have over 30 flights a week to Eilat from Europe.”
The tourism industry in Israel has also been receiving help through a Tourism Ministry budget allocation increase. “We currently have the biggest marketing budget ever,” Shihor-Aronson said. “We have more than NIS 300 million to market Israel abroad.”
Shihor-Aronson justified the amount of money earmarked by pointing out the tourism industry’s importance to Israel’s economy. “Tourism makes up about $10 billion a year in economic activity and also employs around 200,000 people so this is primarily why we are getting the highest budget allocation ever to market tourism to Israel,” she told TPS.
Shihor-Aronson said that the Tourism Ministry is planning to put the budget to very good use.
We are enlarging our investment in campaigns all over the world because we believe this is the way to continue our growth,” she said.
Shihor-Aronson emphasized the growing importance of campaigning in the Russian market in particular. “It’s a very important market to us,” she stressed. “We are close to Russia and we have everything the Russian market wants. We have sun, sea, the Dead Sea, spas, and a large Russian-speaking sector of the population.”
Coupled with the current economic difficulties faced by many Russians, Shihor-Aronson spoke of the importance of funneling resources into the Russian market. “We have to take into consideration that Russia is facing an economic crisis so we are still growing our budget in regards to Russia,” she said.
In light of the growing terror threat around the world, Tourism Ministry Director-General Amir HaLevi called for a development of strategic efforts to maintain the success and growth of the tourism industry.
“Looking back at 2015, we see that the entire world is facing a new geopolitical reality,” said Halevi. “Terrorism has reached places once considered safe tourism destinations. We must develop strategies together to deal with this new reality and the best way to do so is to continue our daily routine, including tourism.”
Shihor-Aronson informed TPS of some of the strategies already used. “We show evidence and testimonials from the streets of Israel,” she explained. “We go to the shores of Tel Aviv and the streets of Jerusalem where we interview tourists and film everyday events thereby demonstrating that people feel safe in Israel and that life goes on as usual.”
The Tourism Ministry remains very optimistic regarding the future of Israel’s tourism industry despite the global threat of terrorism.
“We believe that tourists today are mature enough to recognize that there is nowhere in the world that is completely safe,” Shihor-Aronson said to TPS. “Even major European capital cities like Paris and some of the famous resorts in the Far East have faced major terror attacks.”
Shihor-Aronson is calling on tourists to show and display their courage against the fear of terrorism. “We have to learn how to go on because otherwise we’d be surrendering to terror,” she said.
“The terrorists recognize that tourism is the industry that is the first to hurt and the last to recover and are therefore trying to disturb our lives,” continued Shihor-Aronson. “We call on the Israelis and tourists around the world to continue business as usual and to refuse to change their plans. That is how we can win the war against terror.”