Contributing editor Shuly Kustanowitz spent the first 10 days
of December in Israel.
JERUSALEM -- After putting its marketing program on hold earlier
this fall, Israel's tourism ministry here approved a major push to
revive its tourism industry.
A major advertising campaign is set to begin in the U.S. in
mid-December on radio and in print, featuring a peaceful scene in
Israel and describing it as "the Israel you don't see on the
nightly news," a ministry spokesman said.
Tourism throughout Israel was hit hard by deadly violence that
began in late September, although nearly all of it has been
confined to Palestinian-controlled areas in the West Bank and the
Two exceptions are the Old City's Temple Mount, where there was
a riot in late September, and Gilo, where the southern end of
Jerusalem meets Palestinian areas and artillery exchanges have been
The only significant tourist site in the Palestinian-controlled
West Bank is Bethlehem, and travel there traditionally is barred by
Israeli authorities to protect visitors during disturbances.
In the capital, hotels are all open, according to Jonathan
Harpaz, head of the Jerusalem Hotel Association, but occupancy in
November averaged 20%.
Several hotels have closed some floors of their properties or
reduced staff to limit operating costs.
"It's better in Tel Aviv," Harpaz said, estimating occupancy
there at about 30%. In Tel Aviv, the Crowne Plaza said it was fully
booked for most of December.
In the Red Sea resort town of Eilat, hotels reported an
occupancy level of about 75% even in a depressed tourism market,
said Rina Maor, director of the southern region for the Israel
Ministry of Tourism, but many of the guests are Israelis on
Our group found no apparent extra security or police presence at
the airport or on the streets, no roadblocks on the road between
Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and no army convoys on the highways.
At the Jerusalem Hilton, hotel employees of Jewish, Palestinian
and other identities seemed at ease as they worked together.
The only Old City tourist site closed to visitors was the Temple
Mount, where emotions tend to flare among Muslims who continue to
gather there for prayer.
Below the Temple Mount, Jewish worshippers performed their
religious obligations at the Western Wall, but the visitor's area
at the rear of the plaza, usually a mingling place for both Jewish
and Christian pilgrims, was empty.
Some FIT visitors to Israel have an interest in seeing places
near Palestinian-controlled areas, sites that are off the beaten
track. But the majority of Israel's tourists come to see the
historical and religious sites in the northern Galilee, get a
glimpse of the high-tech central part of the country or take in the
drama of the southern desert.
For those reasons, efforts are being made to have the U.S. State
Department's travel warnings softened, according to a group of U.S.
mayors who were in Israel in early December to assess the situation
"Yes, the stories are overblown," said Meyera Oberndorf, mayor
of the City of Virginia Beach, Va., who said the U.S. ambassador to
Israel, Martin Indyk, promised the group he would do what he could
to reduce the travel warning.