While lone-wolf attacks reduced number of tourists from the United States and Britian over Passover holiday, many hotels across the country were filled with Israelis.

The traditional Passover seder meal ends with a promise, “Next year in Jerusalem.” But at least this year, many American Jews chose to stay away.

“There were far, far fewer tourists this year,” Mark Feldman, the CEO of Ziontours in Jerusalem, told The Media Line. “Many people were scared to come. They felt that the Old City of Jerusalem was off limits completely and that Jerusalem itself was not safe.”

Feldman said hotel occupancy, especially in Jerusalem, was down by 20 or 30 percent over last year.

“American and British tourists plan their travel way in advance,” Feldman said. “They had to decide in November or December, when the situation here was very unstable.”

While the situation has calmed down, a bombing on a Jerusalem bus last month that killed the attacker and wounded 21, further sparked anxiety.

Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Jerusalem
Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Jerusalem


Israel’s Ministry of Tourism says it doesn’t have exact figures for tourism yet, but the situation was “not bad,” according to Pini Shani, the Deputy Director of the Marketing Administration of the Ministry of Tourism. He said looking at monthly statistics can be complicated, because it depends on other issues such as whether Passover and Easter fall in the same month or in different months. He said that estimates are that about three million tourists will visit Israel this year, similar to 2015.

Tourism during Passover tends to be primarily internal tourism by Israelis, say tourism experts. In March, hotels were 58 percent full, said Pnina Shalev, the spokesperson for the Israel Hotels Association, while in 2015, it was 55 percent. The summer 2014 fighting between Israel and the Islamist Hamas in Gaza, affected tourism, which usually sees hotels 60-70 percent full in March.

Be Center Hotel, Eilat
Be Center Hotel, Eilat


“Passover was great with 80-90 percent occupancy in most places,” Shalev told The Media Line. “Eilat was full of Israelis, as was the Dead Sea, Tiberias, and kibbutzim.”

Israel is also turning eastward, hoping to tap into the burgeoning Chinese market. Shani of the Tourism Ministry said that tourism from India and China is increasing quickly, he said, and Hainan Airlines, the largest private carrier in China, last week launched its first direct flight to Israel. Tourism officials say they hope to see 100,000 tourists from China visiting Israel each year.

Israel has also seen a sharp decline in visitors from Russia, which is Israel’s second largest market after the US, due to the sharp financial crisis there.

Overall Israel, with an average of 3 to 3.5 million tourists annually remains far behind other Mediterranean countries like Greece, which has 25 million visitors a year despite the financial crisis there, or Turkey, with close to 40 million tourists.

Many of those who work in tourism are concerned that the downturn in tourism could become permanent.

“In the summer of 2014 with the operation in Gaza, I had a lot of cancellations and I’ve had very little work since then,” Suzanne Pomeranz, a long-time tour guide originally from North Carolina told The Media Line. “Yesterday I was talking to a high school friend and he said, ‘Why don’t you come home? There’s a war in Israel,’ and I said there is no war here but that’s the way it looks to everyone.”

As reported by Ynetnews