VIDEO - Some 300,000 tourists have canceled their visits to Israel
so far following Operation Pillar of Defense.
According to estimates, the fighting in Gaza has cost Israel's tourism industry $1.8 billion in damages.
An emergency meeting was held over the weekend between Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov, Tourism Ministry Director-General Noaz Bar-Nir and tourism industry leaders in a bid to find ways to rescue the winter season and minimize the damage suffered by the industry.
Eilat was badly affected by the operation, as European charter airlines, mostly Scandinavian, canceled a large number of direct flights from Sweden and Denmark to Eilat, in addition to direct flights from Holland and other countries. Conventions planned in local hotels have also been canceled.
In Midst of Operation
Tourists cancel visits, flights prolonged / Danny Sadeh
Some 15% of organized groups scheduled to arrive Israel in coming weeks call off their trips due to security situation. Flights from Europe take two and a half hours more as planes stop in Cyprus to replace aircrew
The Tourism Ministry has already submitted a request with the Treasury for an additional NIS 8 million (about $2 million) that will be used as a safety net for foreign charter airlines, in order to allow the continuation of winter flights from Europe to Eilat.
Tourism Ministry officials estimate that some of the tourists who have canceled their arrival to Israel due to the fighting in the south will reschedule.
"The greatest damage to incoming tourism will be felt in November, December and January, but February through May will also suffer," said Bar-Ni. "We are making efforts to return the tourists to Israel and hope we'll be able to bring back those who canceled as well."
In the meeting held over the weekend it was decided to try to convince leading travel agents, mostly in Europe, to reintroduce trips to Israel in the near future. Most cancelations so far have been from Russia, which makes up 17% of incoming tourism from Israel, and from Germany, which makes up 7%.
The fighting in the south led to a halt in tourist bookings, affecting the growth in incoming tourism Israel has been enjoying in the past four years, mostly thanks to the industry's intensive marketing activity and due to the political crises in neighboring countries.
Some three million tourists visited Israel in the first 10 months of the year, an 8% increase compared to the same period in 2011. According to forecasts, 2012 was expected to conclude as another record year in tourism, but that is now unlikely.
The meeting's participant also agreed to focus their marketing efforts in the next three months on "end users" – the tourists themselves, and step up marketing campaigns in the US and Russia. In addition, the internet activity will be boosted, including the distribution of photos showing tourists enjoying their vacation in Israel.
Marketing efforts will also be made to return Israeli tourists to the southern region.