Israel experienced just a 3 percent drop in visitors last year, in spite of concerns over “the geopolitical situation,” the country’s tourism ministry announced this week. More than 3 million people traveled to Israel in 2015, most of them by air, the Jerusalem Post reported.
Anxiety emerged in October over whether Israel’s roughly $11 billion-a-year tourism industry would take a hit as a result of the surge in violence between Palestinians and Israelis. Especially popular with visitors because of the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall, Jerusalem was the site of several demonstrations in the area of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound. Travel experts were worried reports of rock throwing and stabbings would scare away tourists.
But tourists came anyway. The U.S. generated the most traffic, with about 586,000 Americans coming to Israel, followed by Russia, with 392,000. France, Germany and Britain also ranked high, Ynetnews reported. About one-half of the visitors were Christians.
Amir Halevy, director-general of the tourism ministry, told the Jerusalem Post the success enjoyed last year was largely due to Israel’s marketing efforts abroad. The ministry also subsidized flights to places such as Eilat, while hotels and tour groups offered deep discounts.
The U.S. State Department issued a travel warning Dec. 16 strongly advising citizens to avoid traveling to the Gaza Strip. It noted that more than 12 Americans were killed in attacks in Israel in 2014 and 2015.
At least one expert indicated he was forecasting relatively stable numbers in the first three months of the new year. “In the most optimistic scenario, we expected incoming-tourism numbers in the first quarter of 2016 to remain the same as in first-quarter 2015 — there won’t be a decline,” Yossi Fattal, head of the Incoming Tour Operators Association, told Haaretz. “The scenario that worries us is that there will be a decline. In any event, no one is talking about an increase.”