Travel Weekly editor at large Nadine Godwin is touring Israel
for a first-hand look at a nation whose tourism industry has
suffered for nearly a year as a result of an extended siege of
Palestinian-Israeli violence. Her first report follows:
TEL AVIV -- My El Al flight from New York to Tel Aviv was
packed, a fact that seems at odds with reports that travel to
Israel dropped sharply in the last year.
However, among the passengers, there seemed to be no one who was
part of a tour group.
The bulk of the passengers -- speaking Hebrew -- were either
returning Israelis (who, judging by the luggage, clearly had done a
lot of shopping in the U.S.), travelers visiting friends and family
Indeed, El Al confirmed that flights had been full in the last
two to three weeks because nearly 2,500 students flew to Israel to
begin year-long studies in the country.U.S. arrivals to Israel fall
It was hard to believe, judging from both the flight and the
hour spent watching baggage claim activity at Ben Gurion
International Airport, that Israel could have reported a 51% drop
in visitor arrivals from the U.S. between October 2000 and July of
this year. In addition, its reported drop in worldwide arrivals in
the first four months of this year was a near-identical 50%.
I spent my first day here sightseeing in Tel Aviv and Old Jaffa,
the ancient port and suburb, in an atmosphere that felt far removed
from the world's troubles. But I did not spot a single American
Admittedly, this was not science, but my guide confirmed the
effects of the Palestinian-Israeli violence on her business.
She said she and other guides typically were busy every day of
the month, but now, if they get work for a week or 10 days out of a
month, they are doing well. She talked at dinner of taking work as
a waitress or in a hotel.
Etty Gargir, director general of the Association for Tourism Tel
Aviv-Jaffa, said this coastal city is lucky because it is a
business destination -- and also because it offers options for
visitors at all budget levels.
What was left unsaid is that, although Tel Aviv is not unscathed
by terrorist attacks, it is farther than other destinations from
Israel's hottest spots.
Gargir said the businessmen are still coming to town, but
arrivals are off about 30% from arrivals a year ago.
It is a popular beach destination for Europeans, but for
Americans its appeal is music, museums and other cultural elements;
Old Jaffa, with its shops and ancient charms, and restaurants.
There also is a lively nightlife.
Typically, American visitors spend a short period in Tel Aviv
and visit other parts of Israel during trips of at least a week's
length. But Gargir wants to attract long-haul passengers for longer
stays in "the city that never stops."
Therefore, she said, her office worked with the tourism ministry
and hoteliers to create seven-day packages to Tel Aviv for sale in
the U.S., as well as Europe, with an Oct. 8 start date for the
program. The packages will include local sightseeing, a one-day
trip to Jerusalem and coupon books offering discounts to Tel Aviv
and Jaffa attractions and shops.
The program was not devised specifically to counter the falloff
in business in the wake of Palestinian-Israeli violence, Gargir
said. It already was in the local tourism association's long-term
She said the program will be supported with advertising in the
U.S., and agents wanting more information can contact the Israeli
tourist board in New York at (888) 77-ISRAEL.