It’s a record-breaking year for tourism in Israel, with visitors from around the globe flocking to the Holy Land.
Between January and June 2013, tourism reached a record high in Israel, as 1.7 million visitors came to the Holy Land. This figure was 1 percent higher than the same six month period in 2012. Viewing the influx of foreign visitors as “an essential engine for economic growth that creates new jobs in the periphery,” Tourism Minister Uzi Landau added that he hopes the numbers will climb still higher and pledges to “continue our work in growing the number of visitors to Israel and realizing the tourism potential.”
Landau noted that the Israeli tourism industry generates about 30 billion shekels ($8.3 billion) per year. “The cancellation of the value-added tax levy on incoming tourism, the Open Skies agreement and supportive government policies represent an important base for the Tourism Ministry’s activities. We have a wonderful tourism product.”
Out of all of the locations in Israel, Jerusalem is the most popular destination for tourists, with 80 percent of them coming to Israel to visit the city’s sacred sites. Ranking among the most popular of these sites are the Western Wall (Kotel) and its adjacent tunnels, four historic Sephardic synagogues, the Hurva Synagogue, the Roman Cardo, Old City markets, the City of David Archaeological Park, and the Israel Museum, which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls and internationally known archaeological exhibits, along with a number of other Jewish holy sites.
Nir Barkat, Jerusalem’s mayor, commented that several years ago, only 2 million tourists visited Jerusalem annually, while today nearly 4 million tourists come each year. “In recent years, we have allocated a lot of resources to the development of tourism in the city, investing in development and infrastructure planning and promoting domestic and international tourism in Jerusalem,” Barkat says, adding that he’s pleased it’s paying off with Jerusalem tourism “displaying a consistent upward trend.”
Jerusalem is not Israel’s only tourist attraction. The Negev offers fascinating places to visit as well, including the world-famous Dead Sea, Ein Gedi, and Masada. There are also numerous Jewish historical sites in the holy cities of Tiberias, Safed, and Hebron, in addition to Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem, Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem (Nablus) and the archaeological remains of the Tabernacle’s previous home in Shiloh. Furthermore, bathers rate beaches at Netanya and Ashkelon as among the most beautiful in the world. In addition, each year the ancient Roman ruins in Caesarea, as well as the historical sites in Jaffa and Acre, attract thousands of tourists from around the world.
TOURISTS AS AMBASSADORS
Insiders say that experiencing Israel has a lasting effect upon tourists. Minister Landau believes that tourists can be a powerful force for Israel once they return home. “When a tourist comes to Israel, he becomes an ambassador in his native country because he has seen the truth with his own eyes and can then tell others about his or her experience in the Holy Land,” he says. So the Israeli government supports reaching out to all tourists and not just those from western countries. “We are ready to put a special emphasis on attracting tourists from the Far East, China, India and South America too,” he adds. “Our goal is to turn Israel into a tourism superpower.”
By Rachel Avraham, staff writer for United with Israel