Despite the blizzard that swept through the country and disrupted flight schedules, the all-time record for the number of entries into Israel was broken in December 2013 — with 272,000 people entering over the month, and over 3.5 million for the year — the Tourism Ministry announced in a statement Thursday.
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, the number of visitors to Israel was 14 percent higher in December 2013 than in December of the previous year. A record 3.54 million tourists entered the country in 2013, half a percent more than in 2012.
Of the 272,000 entries recorded in December 2013, 241,000 were by tourists, 24% more than in December 2012 and 12% and 11% more than December 2010 and 2011, respectively. Two hundred and eleven thousand entries were by air, 22% more than in December 2012, while the other arrivals were made through the various land crossings into Israel.
The leading home countries for incoming tourism were said to be the United States, Russia, France, Germany and the United Kingdom.
Tourism’s contribution to Israel’s economy was reported to be some NIS 40 billion ($11.42 billion).
The city most visited by incoming tourists was said to be Jerusalem, with 75% of tourists passing through it during their trips to Israel. The most-visited site was the Western Wall, with 68% of tourists stopping there.
The majority of tourists visiting Israel in 2013 were Christian — 53%, half of those Catholic. Twenty-eight percent were Jewish.
Tourists, according to the statement, reported a satisfaction rate at a level of 4.3 out of 5, coupled with an improvement in the attitude of the Israeli general public toward tourists.
Tourists were also said to be eschewing hotels for alternative accommodation, such as youth hostels.
A 3% increase was also marked in domestic tourism.
“Despite Operation Pillar of Defense and the security situation in the region, tourists voted with their feet,” Tourism Minister Uzi Landau said following the publication of the report, referring to Israel’s brief war with Hamas in Gaza in late 2012.
“The Tourism Ministry will continue to invest in maintaining the numbers of tourists arriving in Israel, by opening new markets and actively marketing the tourism product around the world. I wish all tourists a happy 2014.”