Record broken – just in time for New Year. The Tourism Ministry summarized the year in Tourism for 2010 on Monday and announced that since January 3.45 million tourists visited Israel. This is an estimate as the year isn't quite over – the final figures will be released in tow weeks.
Surveys carried out by the ministry among visiting tourists included a poll rating visitor satisfaction from one to five. Among the services receiving the highest marks were archeological sites (4.6), tour guides (4.4), airports and even security checks (4.3). The lowest marks went to cab services (3.8), stores and cleanliness in public areas (3.9).
It should be mentioned that the issue of filth and neglect in tourism sites in many cities around Israel has just recently been brought up in the state comptroller's report.
While presenting the data Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov stated that in 2011 the ministry would set aside resources for marketing Israel in Christian communities in India (close to 150 million), Poland and South Korea. He repeated his promise to promote the establishment of Casinos in Arad, Mitzpe Ramon and Eilat.
The previous record of 3 million tourists a year was broken just over a month ago with the arrival of a group of Christians from Brazil. The Tourism Ministry said that the growth trend has been felt in nearly every month since October 2009. The number of tourists in 2010 represents an increase of 700 thousand of the tourists that arrived in Israel in the previous year and 400 thousand more than the previous record holding year, 2008.
'Religious tourism' still a winner
According to the data, 66% of tourists arriving in Israel stated that the purpose of their trip was a pilgrimage, recreational or an excursion. 17% were in Israel to visit friends and relatives and 15% were in Israel for business purposes.
In Misezhnikov's opinion, Israel is not a rest and recreation country," like Turkey or Cyprus and so he made sure to position Israel as the holy land with Jerusalem at its center, as tourists from around the world flock to Jerusalem.
Record-breaking number of tourists (Photo: Yoav Glazner)
"They come because of religion but stay because of other reasons: Bird watching, wine, bike tours and other attractions," the minister added.
Surveys carried out by the ministry in the past year reveal that Jerusalem is the touristiest city, with over 76% of tourists visiting. Tel Aviv came in second with 54%. The cities that follow in the rankings are: The Dead Sea (49%), Tiberias (42%) and Nazareth 39%).
The high tide has reached the Palestinian Authority which has also witnessed a rise in tourism, mainly of pilgrimage trips. According to Misezhnikov during the Christmas period alone, 90,000 visited the Palestinian Authority.
"The Palestinians are making profits because of us and prospering thanks to tourists who visit Israel," Misezhnikov stated and added that "this in spite of their Tourism Minister's refusal to meet with me."
US and Russia in top spots
In the past year, 19% of the tourists came from the US. Russia came in at second place with 15% of the tourist total. France contributed with nine percent while Britain and Germany each sent over a total of five percent of Israel's tourists.
In the spirit of the end of the civil year, the ministry stated that according to their estimations, 69% of the incoming tourists are Christians, 23% are Jews and the rest either listed their religion as 'other' or don't see themselves as a member of any religion. Over 50% of the tourists were visiting Israel for the first time.
Israelis vacationing more
And what of 'Mr. Israel's' vacationing habits? A little over 16 million Israeli tourist lodgings were noted in the past year. The Tourism Ministry noted that data for Israeli vacations reveals a rise of just four percent in comparison with the previous year. Youth hostels and country lodgings noted a 12% surge while hotels had to make do with an increase of just one percent.
2010 saw a rise of seven percent in the number of Israelis heading abroad, when compared with 2009. When compared with the record breaking year – 2008, that is a rise of just one percent.
Regional tourism flourishing
It should be mentioned that the number of tourists entering Israel includes those that enter through the Allenby Border Crossing in the Palestinian Authority, as well as visitors that pass through Israel for a one day tour one their way to neighboring countries.
That said, the same counting system was in place during the record breaking tourism year of 2008. The Tourism Ministry made sure to mention that there was also a rise in the number of tourists coming to Israel for more than one day, compared to previous years.
Bethlehem on Christmas. PA also enjoying tourism surge (Photo: AP)
Meanwhile, not everyone in the tourism industry is enjoying the recent statistics. The Chairman of the Israel Hotel Association Shmuel Tzurel recently warned that "they are smug over visitor numbers which include day-trippers whose contribution to the economy can be negative".
In addition, the Tourism Ministry and various tourism sources agree with the claim that there is a severe shortage in the number of hotels in Israel – there is no suitable infrastructure to absorb the growing number of tourists if the rise in numbers continues.
Looking at the bigger picture it would seem that the entire Middle East is enjoying resurgence in the tourism sector. Jordanian, Syrian, Lebanese and even Palestinian tourism sources reported an unprecedented number of tourists visiting within their borders in recent months.
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