Tourist visits to Israel plummeted by more than a third during August as the conflict with Hamas was at its height and rockets rained down on the country, the Tourism Ministry said on Tuesday, confirming anecdotal reports.
The ministry quoted Central Bureau of Statistics figures that showed there were 182,000 visitor entries into the country during August, which was 36 percent less than during August 2013, and represented the lowest number for that month since 2006.
However, the ministry noted that it was still 49% higher than during the 2006 Second Lebanon War, which saw just 122,000 entries during August of that year.
Business owners had complained of slumping receipts during the 50-day conflict that lasted through much of July and August, and the Tourism Ministry launched a campaign pumping internal tourism to bolster the industry.
July, when the military campaign began, saw 218,000 visitors, a 26% drop from the year before.
Tourism Minister Uzi Landau said that the statistics showed the need for a more comprehensive aid package for the tourism industry rather than the government plan to focus on communities within 40 kilometers of Gaza that suffered the heaviest rocket barrages.
“The figures prove that the format for compensation we submitted to the government beyond the 40 kilometer radius is what is needed,” Landau said. “We are investing in marketing in order to increase the numbers of incoming tourists.”
Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on July 8 and during the seven-week long campaign Hamas fired thousands of rockets at Israeli towns and cities including some that reached Tel Aviv and beyond.
Director-General of the Tourism Ministry Amir Halevy said that ministry intends to call a meeting later in the week of Israel Government Tourist Office directors from across the globe to form a recovery plan for tourism to Israel.
Halevy noted that some 200,000 people rely on tourism for employment in Israel.
“Everyone understands the importance of rehabilitating tourism as an engine for economic growth that injects NIS 40 billion into the economy,” he said. “Compensation for this industry will generate several times as much in revenue for the economy.”
The ministry said it has already begun a recovery program that is focusing on tourism from Russia and Germany as well as a television campaign broadcast globally on Eurosport TV.
A total of 147,000 people flew into Israel last month, a drop of 31% compared to August 2013. Another 17,000 came in through border crossings, of which 11,000 came from Jordan and 6,000 from Egypt. However, the total was just 58% of the figures for August last year, and showed that entries from Jordan dropped to almost half.
Day visitors, those who don’t stay overnight in the country, took the biggest overall hit with 18,00 visits, a drop of 59% compared to the same month last year. Just 500 arrived on cruise ships, barely 3% of the previous year’s figure.
During the two months of July and August 400,000 visitors came to Israel, 31% less than for the same months in 2013, that saw 578,000 people visit.
In total, in the months January to August some 2.3 million people arrived in Israel, about two percent less than for the same period the year before.