81°F
weather icon Clear

Israel’s tourism industry feels sting of war

JERUSALEM — It was supposed to be a record-breaking year for tourist visits to Israel. But all that changed when the 50-day war between Israel and Hamas prompted jittery travelers to cancel trips en masse, leaving empty hotel rooms and barren tourist sites in their wake.

The summertime fighting delivered a serious hit to Israel’s thriving tourism industry, causing losses of hundreds of millions of dollars and sparking concern that aftershocks may continue well after the war.

“Our challenge is how to prevent more cancelations. Despite a month having passed since the war, there is still an image among tourists that it is not safe to travel here,” said Oded Grofman of the Israel Incoming Tour Operators Association.

Israel’s war against Hamas came at the beginning of the peak tourist season, which includes July and August and runs through the Jewish High Holiday season and early winter.

Israel launched the war July 8 in response to rocket fire from the Gaza Strip and to destroy a network of tunnels used to attack Israelis. More than 2,100 Palestinians and 72 people on the Israeli side were killed. Israel and Hamas signed a cease-fire on Aug. 26.

None of the casualties on the Israeli side occurred in the country’s tourist hubs of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, which endured rocket attacks but were largely protected by the Iron Dome missile defense system. Still, gruesome images of the war beamed around the world scared tourists away. One rocket that landed near Israel’s international airport spurred American and European airlines to suspend flights for 48 hours, sending a chill through the local tourism industry.

Before the war, the country hoped for a record-breaking year for tourist visitors. Since the second Palestinian uprising subsided nearly a decade ago, Israel has enjoyed a tourism boom, with as many as 3.6 million foreign visitors to the country last year. Tourism is now an estimated $5 billion industry and provides more than 110,000 jobs in Israel.

But the war caused a 31 percent drop in foreign visitors to Israel during that period compared to 2013, with the decline in August reaching 36 percent. The amount of visitors during that month was the lowest since February 2009, shortly after fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants. Israel’s Tourism Ministry estimates the losses to be upward of $544 million. A postwar influx of visitors for the Jewish holidays is expected to bring some relief, but not enough to salvage a miserable season.

Merchants in Jerusalem’s Old City, a top tourist destination, say they are still feeling the sting. The area’s cobblestone streets are typically filled with tourists purchasing chintzy wares and cheeky T-shirts and visiting the holy sites. But they’ve been eerily empty over the summer.

“When the Gaza war started it just went down,” said Kevork Kahvedjian, whose family has run a shop selling old photos in the Old City since 1949. “There were no people at all, none. It was as if there was a curfew or something.” Kahvedjian said his sales declined as much as 90 percent.

Beyond tourists, the war also drove away foreign acts, with many artists slated to perform this summer — among them Neil Young, the Backstreet Boys and Lana Del Rey — pulling out. Singer Lady Gaga did end up performing in front of a crowd of 20,000 people in Tel Aviv, however.

The slump in tourism comes amid a wider economic slowdown in Israel, which emerged intact from the 2008 global financial crisis though is now suffering from timid growth. The Bank of Israel has taken measures to stimulate the economy, dropping interest rate levels to 0.25 percent — the lowest ever — but some economists fear the country may be headed toward a recession. The Gaza war and its side effects may compound the sluggish growth.

Mirit Craven Schneider was among the droves of tourists who canceled trips to Israel because of the war. She was set to spend two weeks touring the country with her husband and three young children in what would have been their first trip to Israel.

“Once everything started happening, it was very concerning,” said Craven Schneider, a first grade teacher from Houston, Texas. “We didn’t want to be there with air raid sirens going off, and the kids having to spend time in bomb shelters.”

The industry is hoping to bounce back. Israel’s Tourism Ministry is set to launch new campaigns in markets in the U.S., Germany and Russia meant to target niche travelers, including Jewish and Christian communities. This year is largely unsalvageable, but officials hope that the numbers will rise again.

“People abroad might feel that things here are unsafe but this is a very, very safe country,” Tourism Minister Uzi Landau said. “This is exactly the kind of perception that we would like to share with all of our potential visitors.”

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Entertainment Videos
Heavier traffic expected from EDC festival attendees
Electric Daisy Carnival attendees began to vacate the Las Vegas Motor Speedway starting before 5 a.m., the majority heading south on Interstate 15.
What it's like to skip the lines and fly by helicopter to EDC
What it's like to skip the lines and fly by helicopter to EDC. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
DJ Steve Aoki visits Las Vegas comic book store
DJ Steve Aoki visits Torpedo Comics in Las Vegas Friday, May 17, 2019, for a signing for his new comic book series "Neon Future." (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Las Vegas Smith & Wollensky opens at The Venetian
After 18 years, the Smith & Wollensky location on Las Vegas’ south Strip closed in 2017, to be re-born two years later with a rib-cutting — instead of a ribbon-cutting — in The Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal)
Colin Cantwell, Creator Of Iconic Star Wars Ships Visits Vegas
Colin Cantwell, who created and designed such "Star Wars" ships as the X-Wing fighter, and Death Star, met fans at Rogue Toys in Las Vegas today. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Beauty & Essex in Las Vegas makes an EDC Wonder Wheel
In honor of the Electric Daisy Carnival, Beauty & Essex at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas makes its Wonder Wheel party-worthy. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Giada talks Vegas Uncork’d
Giada De Laurentiis talks during Aperitivo Hour, a Vegas Uncork'd event, at her Caesars Palace restaurant, Pronto, May 10, 2019. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Scenes from Vegas Uncork’d 2019 on the Las Vegas Strip
The 13th edition of Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appetit brought four days of food, wine, celebrity chefs and parties to town, May 9-12. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Three ingredients Gordon Ramsay can’t live without
Bon Appetit's Andy Baraghani interviews the "Hell's Kitchen" chef during a Vegas Uncork'd event at Caesars Palace, May 11, 2019. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vegas Uncork’d launches wiith bubbles and a blade
Dozens of chefs representing some of the Strip’s top restaurants gathered Thursday at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas to launch the 2019 edition of Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appetit. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bunky the Clown at the clown convention
Bob "Bunky the Clown" Gretton talks about his life as a clown and the Clown Convention which was in Las Vegas at Texas Station this week. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Frying soft-shell crab at Lola’s in Las Vegas
At Lola’s: A Louisiana Kitchen in Las Vegas, soft-shell crab is breaded and fried and served either as an appetizer, po’boy or platter. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
The Stove in Henderson makes Pecan Pie Pancakes
At The Stove in Henderson, chef/partner Antonio Nunez stacks buttermilk pancakes with pecans and dulce de leche and tops them pie crust crumbs. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vinnie Paul remembered at Count's Vamp'd
The late rocker's favorite table at one of his favorite clubs in Las Vegas. (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
4DX movie experience at Red Rock
4DX movie experience during a demo reel at Red Rock. (Christopher Lawrence/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
What To Do On May The 4th
There are plenty of events going on May the 4th this year around Las Vegas. Celebrate Star Wars and Comic Book Day all at once. The Rogue Toys, the 501st, Rebel Legion and Millennium Fandom Bar are all hosting fun events to help celebrate your geek-dom. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Water Sports Introduces New Attraction At Lake Las Vegas
Las Vegas Water Sports will debut its new aqua park attraction at Lake Las Vegas Days this weekend. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Making the Space Invader at Greene St. Kitchen in Las Vegas
Lysa Huerta, pastry cook at Greene St. Kitchen at the Palms in Las Vegas, starts with angel food cake, Fruity Pebbles ice cream and strawberry sorbet to create a space creature engulfed in flashing lights and swirling mists. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Pools
The M, Park MGM and NoMad are just a few great pools in Las Vegas. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jose Andres explains Iberico pork
(Al Mancini/Las Vega Review-Journal)
Inside Life is Beautiful
Craig Asher Nyman explains how Life is Beautiful festival is booked and talks about this year's line-up. (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tattoo'd America Pops Up In Vegas
Tattoo'd America, a new pop-up attraction on the Linq Promenade, had their grand opening Friday. The attraction is dedicate to the culture of tattoos. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Jose Andres gets key to the Strip
Chef Jose Andres was presented with a Key to the Las Vegas Strip and a proclamation declaring April 26 Jose Andres Day in Clark County by County Commissioner Tick Segerblom on Friday. The ceremony took place at his restaurant Bazaar Meat in the SLS Las Vegas. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sadelle’s in Las Vegas makes a grilled cheese with an inverted bagel
Michael Vargas, executive sous chef at Sadelle’s at Bellagio in Las Vegas, inverts an everything bagel and grills it with Swiss, cheddar and Muenster cheeses to make the Inverted Bagel Grilled Cheese. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Learn how to make China Poblano's Salt Air Margarita
Learn how to make China Poblano's Salt Air Margarita (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tattoo'd America invites you to have fun and take pictures
Kassandra Lopez at Tattoo'd America invites you to have fun and take pictures. (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Prime rib is carved tableside at Lawry’s The Prime Rib in Las Vegas
Dave Simmons, executive chef of Lawry’s The Prime in Las Vegas, which plans special cuts for National Prime Rib Day, demonstrates the restaurant’s service from rolling tableside carving carts. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Making gluten-free pizza at Good Pie in Las Vegas
Good Pie owner/pizzaiola Vincent Rotolo makes his gluten-free pizza.
Rockabilly fans enjoy Las Vegas weather poolside
Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender runs Thursday, April 18th through Sunday, April 21st with a huge car show on Saturday featuring The Reverend Horton Heat, The Delta Bombers and The Coasters. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Brownie sundae at VegeNation in Las Vegas is completely vegan
Donald Lemperle, chef/owner of VegeNation in Las Vegas and nearby Henderson, NV, makes his sundae with ice cream made with coconut and almond milks, a brownie made with coconut flour and oil and organic sugar and cacao, and fresh fruit. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
THE LATEST
Officials raid 247 Colorado homes growing black market pot

Authorities said Friday they raided hundreds of black market marijuana operations in Colorado that flouted the state’s cannabis law by growing tens of thousands of plants in Denver-area homes and selling the drugs out of state.

Family of woman mauled by lion seeks for new regulations

Months after the mauling last December at the Conservators Center in Burlington, North Carolina, the family still questions the sanctuary’s safety protocols.

Police seek suspect after explosion in French city of Lyon

France’s counter-terrorism prosecutor said an investigation has been opened for “attempted murderer in relation with a terrorist undertaking” and “criminal terrorist association.”