The drop in incoming tourism to Israel continues: The Tourism Ministry reported Wednesday that 1.2 million tourists visited Israel in the first half of 2009, a 20% drop compared to the same period last year, but a 15% increase compared to the first half of 2007.
Over a million tourists came to Israel for a stay of at least several days (18% decrease) and 133,500 were "one-day visitors" (35% drop). According to data of the Central Bureau of Statistics, 208,000 visited the country this June, a 16% drop compared to June 2008.
Despite the grim figures, Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov said that "the immediate and intensive actions the Tourism Ministry has taken to preserve the activity of tourism bodies and tourist movement into Israel have managed to curb the drop in incoming tourism.
"Increasing the marketing budget for the next two years to NIS 500 million (approximately $125 million) and curbing the initiative to cancel the VAT exemption for tourists will help the tourism industry overcome the effects of the economic crisis and continue its important contribution to the economy, through revenues and employment, especially in the periphery," the minister added.
Misezhnikov also commented on the aviation crisis with Russia that has led to the cancellation of flights between the two countries. "The crisis with Russia must be resolved urgently, because it could result in the collapse of incoming tourism from Russia and the loss of hundreds of millions of shekels a year," he explained.
The minister met with Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz this week to discuss the problem. At this point, the Russian aviation authority is refusing to allow Israeli airlines to fly to certain destinations in Russia, a fact that may lead to the cancellation of other services between the two countries.
In recent years Russia has been the second largest source for incoming tourism to Israel, after the United States. Tourism Ministry efforts to encourage tourist movement from the country, including marketing campaigns and cancelling visa requirements for Russian visitors, helped bring 360,000 Russian tourists to Israel in 2009.