Despite the global financial crisis, 2008 was the best year ever for the tourism industry in Israel, with a record-breaking number of incoming tourists.
Three million visitors entered the country this year, representing a 30% growth compared to last year's figures and a 13% growth compared to the year 2000, which held the record until now.
Some 11 million passengers went through Ben Gurion Airport this year, a 10% increase compared to 2007.
Hotel in Eilat (Photo: Joe Kot)
These data were presented by Tourism Minister Ruhama Avraham-Balila during a press conference on Monday. The minister said that the worldwide crisis in tourism has not been felt in Israel, and that a substantial growth in tourism was even registered in the months of September, October and November compared to the same period in 2007.
According to Avraham-Balila, the United States was the number one source for tourists to Israel, with American visitors making up 20% of all tourists to the country. Russian tourists came second, with 370,000 visitors this year alone.
The minister noted that incoming tourism from Russia has doubled this year, after Israel cancelled the demand for a visa from Russian citizens.
Statistics also revealed that some 25% of tourists this year were Jewish, 66% Christians and the rest either members of other religions or of no religious affiliation.
Tel Aviv ranked number one in terms of hotel stays in the country, with an average 75% hotel occupancy rate; the Dead Sea hotels came second with an occupancy rate of 70%; Jerusalem and Eilat third with 68%; and Israel's north ranked fourth with 60%.
Incoming tourism generated NIS 15 billion ($3.8 billion) for Israeli economy, while local tourism contributed NIS 10 billion ($2.5 billion).