Israeli Tourism May Slow Down Amid Violence

 @ismati.mangla@ibtimes.com
on July 09 2014 4:45 PM
israel
Smoke trails are seen as rockets are launched towards Israel. Reuters

Israel is a popular travel destination: The country drew 1.4 million tourists from January through May of this year, according to its Central Bureau of Statistics. But as fighting and rocket strikes between Hamas and Israel intensify, it’s unclear whether tourism will remain as robust in the coming months.

“Right now by the numbers of tourists visiting Israel, it looks like a record year,” Haim Gutin, head of the Israeli Tourism Office in the U.S., told TravelPulse.com. “But let’s see what happens. It’s very difficult to say what impact [missile attacks] will have on travelers to Israel.”

Gutin added that as of Wednesday, he hadn’t heard of any American companies currently operating tours in Israel pulling out of the country. The Israeli Tourism Office also did not report any future tour cancellations.

“Right now the situation in terms of tourism is OK,” Gutin said. “Most of the country is out of range of missiles. We’ll have to wait to see the next developments.”

But some companies are avoiding the country for now. On Monday, German cruise ship AIDAdiva was caught in the crossfire of the conflict when debris that “may have come from missiles” landed on the cruise ship’s deck as it left the port of Ashdod, which is near Gaza, the company said in a statement.

There were no injuries among the 2,700 passengers and crew aboard, and no damage to the ship itself. The cruise line, which is owned by Miami-based Carnival Corp., has since suspended port calls to Israel for the months of July and August.

The Israel Hotels Association reports a small number of cancellations by individual tourists and groups visiting Israel, but there have been virtually no new bookings as the situation in the country remains unclear. “There is no question that after the crisis ... a powerful marketing campaign will be required to bring back demand and revive incoming traffic,” the association said in a statement.

Birthright Israel, an organization that runs educational trips to Israel for Jews ages 18 to 26 around the world, currently has about 3,500 visitors in the country.

“None have requested to go home,” said Karine Brown, a spokeswoman for the organization, which has not canceled any future group trips. There have been individuals pulling out: “Maybe one or two people out of 40” in each group, she said. “In general, the trips work around the situation. If they know there’s a threat in one area, they move them to another so our travelers are never in harm's way.”

The U.S. State Department has had a travel warning for Israel, the West Bank and Gaza since February of this year.

Tourism boosted the Israeli economy by about $11.6 billion in 2013. 

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