Israel, the Land of Promise, has developed a habit over the years of presenting a more than promising amount of destination sales to North American travel agents and they do no less so this year, resulting in still another Recommend’s Readers’ Choice Award as Best Selling Destination in the Middle East. They underscored that feat at press time with the news the country had hit all time record high visitor numbers in October.
According to the Israel Ministry of Tourism, the visitor numbers to Israel hit 333,000 travelers in the month of October, a 9 percent increase from the same period last year, which was the previous record-high for travel to Israel. Israel also saw a 20 percent increase in cruise travel with 23,500 tourists arriving on cruise ships, and a 6 percent increase in the number of tourists who visited Israel and stayed for a minimum of one night compared with October 2008.
“We are thrilled to see such a large increase in travelers to Israel in October 2009 during this important tourist time,” says Arie Sommer, commissioner of tourism, North and South America. “And we are encouraged by signs that the trend will continue throughout the December holiday season, bringing us a robust end to 2009.”
But while the numbers definitely seemed to delight Sommer, they didn’t seem to particularly surprise him. “I think things have changed over the last couple of months. I think even in terms of the economy, people got used to the idea and saw that things maybe weren’t so bad…, they started traveling again. They had postponed their trips to Israel and now they’re going back… People have calmed down, they’re more comfortable about traveling again and now we see that Israel was one of the first destinations they wanted to travel to.”
More importantly, he adds, “We don’t know yet, of course, what’s going to happen in November or December, but we have very good indications for those months. We have even better indications for 2010. From what I hear from tour operators, from travel agents and from airlines, 2010 is probably going to be the best year ever for the state of Israel. And again, it’s because so many Americans postponed their trips earlier this year because they were concerned about the economy and other issues. Now everyone has higher hopes for 2010—that it will be a better year economic-wise, that they will be able to afford to travel, that there will be less things to worry about on the whole. So those that postponed in 2009, will definitely go in 2010. And this shows that this is a very good indication for us.”
Sommer also doesn’t seem very surprised about Israel winning the Best Selling Destination in the Middle East for the third consecutive year in a row. Well, he may have been surprised about the award, but when you ask him why Israel consistently comes out the best selling destination in the region from North America, he’ll give you some pretty solid reasons why it’s perfectly natural that it should happen.
“I think Israel is offering a great combination not only for those that are in the region looking for religious places to go to, but I think Israel offers a great combination for those looking for a cultural and historical experience, too.” And, he adds, “When you look at the statistics and you see who’s coming—you’ll see about 55 percent are Christians who are visiting the country to go to the Holy Land, specifically to visit the holy places. And the rest are sophisticated travelers who are traveling to the Holy Land. That’s a pretty good combination.”
Still another factor that adds to that very potent combination and the likelihood that Israel will be celebrating another “Best Selling” award at the end of next year, is the healthy increase in cruise pasengers and the resurgence in interest by the cruise lines for port stops in Israel—factors that have a major impact on increased future land tours.
“Israel was a Mecca for cruise operators until the Intifada started and then overnight, they canceled all the visits to Israel. And then two years ago, they started to come back and now, just about every cruise ship that comes to the region stops in Haifa or Ashdod or both,” Sommer explains. “We know cruise passengers aren’t spending that much time in the country, most of them don’t use a hotel. But we do know cruising to a destination serves as an appetizer. Once they come on a day tour, we know they’ll come back for longer trips later on. That’s why we’re so keen to bring back those cruise lines.