Israel Sets New Tourism Record in 2010

For the fourth year in a row, Recommend readers have named Israel the Best Selling Destination in the Middle East, something of an understatement when you consider this country’s record year of tourism.

The numbers are amazing. More than 2.5 million travelers arrived in Israel between January and September of this year—27 percent more than during the same period last year and an all-time high in travel to Israel. 270,000 tourists visited Israel in September 2010—an 11 percent increase compared to September 2009 and 2 percent greater than the same period in 2008, the record year for travel to Israel.

So how are they doing it? “We have redoubled our efforts in public relations and advertising initiatives in North America in the past year, which we believe has contributed, at least in part, to the tremendous increase in tourist arrivals in Israel from the U.S.—breaking records previously set in 2008, until now the best year ever for tourism to Israel,” explains Haim Gutin, Israel Tourism Commissioner, North & South America. “In 2010, Israel has been the focus of major media coverage in the top travel and lifestyle publications in North America—with Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, the Galilee and the Dead Sea the subjects of massive articles in Travel + Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, W Magazine and many more. We will continue our work with the media to expose new stories about travel to Israel, and drive yet more tourists to Israel in 2011.”

In order to keep up with all of this tourism activity and to make sure there’s plenty of beds to put the heads, there’s been a marked increase in the development and opening of high-end luxury hotels and boutique properties throughout Israel, including the Mamilla Hotel in Jerusalem, the Villa Carmel in Haifa and the Brown Hotel in Tel Aviv. “From 2011 through 2013, we expect to welcome new luxury hotels around the country,” Gutin promises, “from the Beresheet Hotel (the first luxury property at the Ramon Crater) in early 2011, and the much-anticipated Waldorf=Astoria in Jerusalem in 2012, to the first property in Israel from Kempinski Hotels to be built in Tel Aviv in 2013.”

Demand, of course, has also driven expanded air routes and in the past year, Gutin points out, Israel has seen a dramatic expansion in international flight arrivals, from major carriers and low-budget airlines alike—including the recent addition of direct service from Copenhagen to Tel Aviv aboard Cimber Air, and a new partnership agreement between EL AL and JetBlue, which allows easy connections between EL AL’s transatlantic flights and JetBlue’s network of routes in the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean. Delta Air Lines also recently increased its passenger capacity from the U.S. to Tel Aviv by 39 percent.

All of this demand hasn’t been lost on North American tour operators, either. Globus, for example, just expanded its Israel product into its core itineraries in addition to its religious itineraries. Cruise lines, too, are lining up for space in Israeli ports. “Cruise companies continue to add the Israeli ports of Haifa and Ashdod to their Mediterranean itineraries, often offering great shore excursions to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the Dead Sea,” Gutin explains. “In October 2011, Norwegian Cruise Line will unveil the new 11-day Mediterranean and Holy Land cruise, departing from Rome and docking in Ashdod and Haifa.”

You’re also going to see and hear a lot more about Israel’s “100 Years of Green” campaign and if you haven’t already, you can get all the information you need in our “Israel—100 Years of Green” travel planner in the November issue of Recommend. Indeed, says Gutin, “The Israel Ministry of Tourism will continue its focus on educating the North American market—agents, operators and consumers alike—about Israel’s leading position as a world leader in sustainable tourism. 2010 marked the 100th anniversary of the founding of the first kibbutz at Degania—the original model for sustainable living—and since then, Israel has grown into a fully developed green destination. Agents can now book clients on trips to Israel to experience eco-innovations across the country,” Gutin adds, “from kibbutz stays in the Galilee, to organic and biodynamic vineyards in the Golan Heights, to eco-friendly bike share programs in Tel Aviv, to jogging sightseeing tours of Jerusalem.”

But it’s the travel agent community that Israel continues to count on to drive demand and visitors to the country and according to Gutin, “We will continue our work in 2011 throughout North America to reach out to travel agents with education seminars about travel to Israel and FAM trips. And,” he adds, “we’ve already had great success and positive feedback from agents, across all of our regions in the U.S. and Canada, to our agents’ presentations focused on the burgeoning trend of eco-tourism and green travel to Israel.”