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Israeli tourism bounced back in 2023 but faces challenges ahead with ongoing war

3 million tourists visited Israel in 2023, a 12.5% increase over the previous year

Tourists ride camels in the Judean Desert, August 1, 2023. (Photo: Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

The Ministry of Tourism reported that Israel's tourism sector enjoyed a record-breaking year in 2023 but is now facing the current and post-war challenges that lie ahead.

According to the latest report, about 3 million tourists visited Israel during 2023, a 12.5% increase compared to 2022. While the number represents a 34% drop from the 4.5 million tourists that visited Israel pre-COVID in 2019, it proved to be somewhat encouraging given the country has been at war since Oct. 7.

A mere 180,000 tourists visited Israel during the last quarter of 2023, a significantly lower number of arrivals than the 900,000 or so that was anticipated.

Israel's tourism industry is not expected to increase substantially in 2024 due to the Israel-Hamas conflict and the growing threat of war between Israel and Hezbollah terror forces on the border with Lebanon.

“While some tourists postponed their vacations because of the war, many did not cancel their reservations and are waiting for the right time to travel. Israel has much to offer as a tourism destination and we are looking forward to once again welcoming tourists to our country,” Israeli Minister of Tourism Haim Katz said in a note of optimism regarding "the day after" the war has ended.

“We are preparing the necessary infrastructure that will enable us to operate swiftly and efficiently 'the day after,' in order to help jumpstart the economy and to offer the country additional resources for rehabilitation and growth,” Katz said.

Looking back at 2023, the majority of visitors to Israel arrived during May and June, predominantly from the United States, France, England, Russia, Germany, Italy, Romania, Poland, Canada and Spain. 

In late July, ALL ISRAEL NEWS reported that the number of tourists from the U.S. to Israel hit a new peak in the first half of 2023; 12% higher than during the same period in 2019. 

The month of December saw the least amount of tourism in 2023, with just 52,800 tourists, compared to earlier in the year, which saw upwards of 300,000 visitors per month for several months.

Tourism revenue in Israel totaled $4.85 billion in 2023, with the average expenditure per tourist, excluding flights, totaling ILS 6,005 ($1,608). 

The majority of the visitors came for sightseeing tours, while some 19% arrived for pilgrimage purposes. Roughly half of all Israeli tourists were Christian and nearly 25% were Jewish, according to the Incoming Tourism Survey from January 2023 until the outbreak of war.

Of those tourists, the Ministry of Tourism reported that 57% were first-time visitors, with 43% responding they had visited Israel at least one time before. 

The average stay in Israel was 8 days, with 70% of the tourists arriving independently and 30% as part of an organized group.

Reasons for visiting Israel were quite diverse: 37% came to sightsee; 26% visited Israel for leisure and recreation; 25% came to visit family and friends; 11% arrived on business and 5% visited Israel for other reasons. 

During their visit to Israel, 60% of tourists rented rooms in hotels, 19% stayed with family or friends, 13% booked a short-term rental, 6% stayed in a hostel or Christian accommodations and 2% stayed in other forms of housing. 

Mark Feldman, CEO of Ziontours Jerusalem, expressed less optimism about the coming year for Israel's tourism sector, stressing the need to manage expectations when it comes to the economic forecast.

Feldman noted that groups are showing interest in visiting Israel in 2024, along with a lack of tourists booking flights to Ben Gurion International Airport. In addition, most cruise lines are not setting sail from either of the Mediterranean seaports in Ashdod or Haifa.

Many hotels in the Jewish state continue to host Israeli evacuees from the northern and southern borders of Israel, with no specific timeline for their return home.

“Once the war subsides, there will be a slow and steady increase of tourists who will be welcomed with open arms and broad smiles,” Feldman said.

Read more: TOURISM

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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