JTA – The 350,000 Jewish 18-26- year-olds who have come on free 10-day Birthright trips to Israel have brought a significant economic benefit to the country, a new report from the accounting firm Ernst & Young shows. The report put the overall figure at $825 million. If you subtract Israeli government contributions to the program, the net economic benefit is still a whopping $635 million.
Here are a few other interesting nuggets from the report:
— It turns out Birthright participants actually spend less, on average, than the average U.S. tourist in Israel did in 2012. The average U.S. visitor spent $1,865 per trip (not including flights). Once they were on the ground in Israel, Birthright participants brought an average of about $1,700 to the Israeli economy through tourist activities, hotels, meals and shopping.
A few caveats are worth noting here: The Birthright trips are 10 days, one day shorter than the average tourist trip. And the Birthright numbers are from 2000-2012, when the dollar went a little farther in Israel than it does now. In addition, the average age of American tourists is almost certainly higher than Birthright participants, which means they probably have more money to spend. Though it’s also true that without Birthright, many of these participants likely would not have come to Israel at all.
— Once participants are in Israel, Birthright’s most expensive line item has been $72 million for security — unsurprising given that from 2000-2005, Birthright had to convince participants (and parents) that the trips would be safe despite the second intifada.
— A quarter of Birthrighters extend their stay in Israel, and one in five comes on a return trip. Only five percent, however, make aliya to live in Israel.
The fact that Israel’s government is willing to invest nearly $200 million in trips that won’t result in aliya reflects the government’s shift in priorities over the past couple of decades. While once the government aimed to get as many Jews as possible to live here, now it sees a worthwhile investment in making Israel a place to build Jewish identity on a short trip — which also encourages future donations to the state.