Israel tourism seeing rapid upswing

Tourism professionals in Israel used the occasion of World Tourism Day, Sept. 27, to publicize a rapid upswing in Israel’s tourism numbers.

Due at least in part to an aggressive global ad campaign by Israel’s Ministry of Tourism, the number of visitors to the country is shooting past old records. One particularly impressive statistic shows a 26 percent increase in tourism during the first half of 2017 compared to the same period in 2016.

Tourist visits to Israel dropped in 2015, according to figures from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics. That dip was precipitated by the war against the militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the subsequent wave of violence in Jerusalem, which caused many foreign visitors to cancel trips.

Now, though, with a contemporary ad campaign focusing on luxury and nightlife, promoting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem as, “Two Cities. One Break,” and targeting a travel cohort beyond religious pilgrims, the numbers are once again on the rise.

Tel Aviv skyline
Photo provided by the InterContinental David Tel Aviv
Israel’s fierce individuality and commitment to sustainability, which are also the themes of this year’s World Tourism Day, are also striking a chord with travelers, according to David Cohen, general manager of the InterContinental David Tel Aviv.

“It’s really a great thing that people are increasingly aware of their effects on host countries when they travel,” Cohen said. For example, many of the hotel’s guests are asking what the property does to preserve water.

“We have a particular method of tightly rolling the bathrobes in our hotel rooms, so that we can easily see whether they’ve been used or not thereby avoiding water wastage and unnecessary laundry,” he said.

The InterContinenal David Tel Aviv is located in the fashionable Neve Tzedek district, known as Tel Aviv's SoHo. The hotel, which offers views of the Mediterranean Sea and Jaffa, is listed as the city’s No. 1 hotel by TimeOut Israel.

In addition to being environmentally responsible while still providing top-notch service for their guests, tourists are increasingly interested in how the hotel fits into the local social and economic fabric. They want to know that providers meet the needs of the communities in which they are situated by hiring local workers, paying them fairly, supporting local entrepreneurs and small businesses, and even hosting community events.

To that end, Cohen meets with entrepreneurs and leaders in Tel Aviv, which is a renowned high-tech and start-up city, to learn how his property may be able to incorporate new technology and innovation.

Tel Aviv is the second most-visited city in Israel and, according to one source, is all about modern dining and the café culture. Accordingly, Cohen’s hotel has implemented unique programs such as the Senses of Tel Aviv Experience, where guests are taken on a customized local tour of the Israeli scene relating to their particular interest. For example, a foodie might go with the hotel’s chef to the Carmel Market to shop for ingredients, and then cook a traditional Israeli meal with him.

Other cities in Israel attract travelers for different reasons.

Jerusalem, one of the oldest cities in the world, is the country’s most-visited city. It is a holy city to the three major Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and is therefore immensely popular among religious pilgrims. In addition to the most popular site of the Western Wall, which includes the section known as the Wailing Wall, Jerusalem offers a broad array of historical, archaeological, and contemporary attractions.

Nearby, Bethlehem is home to the Church of the Nativity, built over the site where Jesus Christ is said to have been born.

The Dead Sea with its salt-encrusted shore
Photo provided by
To the north lies Nazareth, the seventh most popular destination overall and one of the country’s prime pilgrimage destinations. As the city where Jesus was raised, its holy sites are some of the most important in the world for those of the Christian faith. East of Nazareth is the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus walked on water as recounted in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and John.

Other attractions include the port city of Haifa, which is the fifth most-visited site; the harbor town of Jaffa; and the Dead Sea, which in on the border with Jordan and, at approximately 413 meters below sea level, is the lowest point on earth. Its extremely high salt content contributes to a natural buoyancy that makes it impossible for a swimmer to sink.

Travel experts say that variety enhances Israel’s appeal.

“As we celebrate World Tourism Day, we encourage travelers to experience Israel’s wonderful culture, heritage and beauty sustainably,” Cohen said.

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