LONDON -- Arrivals into Israel have dropped by 50% since violence
erupted there in September, estimated Itai Eiges, director general
of Israel's Ministry of Tourism.
In an interview with Travel Weekly during the World Travel
Market here, Eiges said that although the news was bad, "our
numbers [before September] were up 50% over 1998, so all is not
In fact, Israel still expects to finish 2000 with a record
number of visitors, according to Pinchas Millo, senior deputy
director general of marketing, who predicted that 2.5 million
tourists would come to Israel by the end of December.
He said that about 400,000 tourists have canceled or delayed
their trips to Israel because of the ongoing struggle between
Israel and the Palestinians.
Set off by the visit of Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon
to Jerusalem's Temple Mount, a holy site for Muslims and Jews, the
Palestinians began a series of violent protests on Sept. 29 against
what they claim is continued and unlawful Israeli occupation of
Palestinian land. At least 200 people, mostly Palestinian, have
died during the conflict.
Meanwhile, general director Eiges said that business from the
U.S. was dramatically reduced, potentially up to 75%, after the
U.S. State Department issued a warning against travel to the entire
country Oct. 24.
"We think this is completely unfair," said Eiges, "if you look
at the warnings from other countries, like the U.K., for instance,
they only name a handful of places in Israel that might be unsafe
but they don't pan travel to the whole country.
"Most of the country is completely safe to travel and the
Israeli government keeps visitors away from any area that is
Eiges currently is working through diplomatic channels to have
the State Department modify its warning.
Once the atmosphere in Israel "becomes calmer," said Eiges, he
will seek an additional $30 million for worldwide promotion.
However, Israel already is reaching out to operators and group
leaders in an effort to prove that the country is safe for
travelers, Millo said.
"We brought a group of priests here from the U.S. and let them
run around on their own in East Jerusalem so they could see for
themselves that it was safe."
"We will be doing this with many more religious leaders who
might be considering a pilgrimage trip," he added.