Tourism in the Holy Land
by Charlie Keenan
For the first six months 2001, 1.2 million tourists arrived by plane45 percent less than the same period in 2000, according to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics.
That's a serious blow to one of Israel's largest industries, which benefited from $3.8 billion in spending as recently as 1998. Tourism amounts to nearly 4 percent of its gross domestic product, the sum of all goods and services produced.
When times are good, tourists flock to places such as Israel's historical and holy sites, the Dead Sea, and the Mediterranean coast. But the slowdown has hotels, restaurants, and other services feeling the pinch.
The Tourism Ministry estimates 50,000 to 60,000 people have lost their jobs. Among hotels, 25 of 350 have closed and 15,000 employees have been laid off, representing 42 percent of the workforce.
"This is the deepest and longest-running crisis that we've ever had," says Avi Rosenthal, the head of Israel's Hotelier's Association. "The worst part is we don't see the end on the horizon."
Western Europeans account for half of all tourists, followed by North Americans (20 percent), Eastern Europeans (11 percent), and Asians (10 percent). But since the current crisis began last year, many have chosen to wait, afraid to visit while a conflict that has claimed more than 650 lives since last September remains unsettled.