Masada, the ruins of Caesarea, and Jerusalem's Biblical Zoo were the most popular tourist sites in Israel
in 2008, according to a ranking of tourism and recreation conducted by the Dun and Bradstreet company.
Masada took first place, pushing out the Biblical Zoo, which topped the list the year before. The fauna wonderland moved down to third place in 2008. In second place were the ruins at Caesarea.
In 2008, 721,915 visitors arrived at Masada - a rise of 16.5% from 2007. The figures show that the historical desert site was also the most profitable in 2008, bringing in about NIS 29 million (about $7 million), up 29.3% from the year before.
The figures also reveal that 713,648 people visited Caesarea's historical site - an increase of 20.7% from the year prior. Despite this, the site brought in only NIS 8.4 million (about $2 million).
The Biblical Zoo hosted 687,647 visitors in 2008, a decrease of .8% from the previous year. The zoo's income also dropped by 3.4%, registering in at NIS 24 million (about $6 million).
Fourth on the list of Israel's most popular sites is the Ramat Gan Safari, to which 581,800 visitors arrived last year, a 1.4% dip from last year's figures.
Fifth on the list is Hamat Gader near Lake Kinneret with an estimated 500,000 guests. In sixth place is the Eilat Underwater Observatory Marine Park with 458,000 visitors. Coming in seventh is the Banyas with 430,531 visitors.
Listed eighth on the list is the Yamit 2000 water park with 412,533 visitors. Following right behind is the Tel Aviv Luna Park with an estimated 400,000. Closing off the top 10 is Qumran National Park with 389,291 visitors.
The rankings also show that the inclusive visits of all top 10 sites stood at some 5.3 million visitors - a 7.5% increase from the previous year. The largest growths in visitors were registered at historical and nature sites intended largely for tourists.
The Qumran National Park, for example, saw an increase of 43% in its number of visitors. The Banyas and Caesarea saw there visitor figures increase by 30.5% and 20.7% respectively.
In contrast, attraction sites intended for Israelis saw much more moderate increases in their numbers of visitors.
Dun and Bradstreet Israel General Manager Reuven Kuvent said, "The year 2008 was a pinnacle year for incoming tourism in Israel with more than 3 million visitor entries. This is seen mainly in the increase in the number of entries to legacy and nature sites.
"However, the effect of the recession has already started to be expressed in the number of visitors to attraction sites, intended mainly for Israelis. It can be assumed that the recession's impact will be felt more severely in 2009's figures."
Dun and Bradstreet's Dun's 100 ranking scores the tourist sites in Israel every year according to number of visitors for sites that charge entry fees. It should be noted that popular sites such as the Western Wall and the Bahai Gardens are not included in the ranking because they do not charge entry fees.