Special Interview Upsurge in American Tourism in Israel

After two years of almost no growth in American tourism to Israel, tourists from the United States are now visiting Israel in record numbers.

“In fact, more American tourists visited Israel in 1983 than in any other single year since Israel was established,” Moshe Shoshani, Israel’s Commissioner for Tourism in North America, said in an interview here with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

According to Shoshani, 395,500 tourists from North America visited Israel last year compared with 295,000 in 1982. “This is an increase of some 100,000 tourists, which is a growth of about 34 percent,” he noted. He said that the bulk of the North American tourists to Israel comes from the United States, and the rest from Canada and Mexico. The number of U.S. tourists was 354,500; from Canada, 33,000; and from Mexico, 8,000.

TWO MAJOR FACTORS CITED

Shoshani said, in reply to a question, that he attributes the dramatic increase in the number of tourists to Israel to two major factors:

“First and foremost is the end, or what appears to be the end, of the economic recession in the United States. Secondly, last year, for the first time, we undertook a major advertising campaign to encourage tourism to Israel. Our advertising budget was considerably larger than in previous years and stood at $1.5 million, compared with $500,000 before. The campaign, concentrating mostly on TV and the print media has proved to be most effective.”

Shoshani pointed out that although Americans were only 33 percent of the total number of tourists to Israel in 1983 — which stood at 1.166 million — they spent in Israel about $400 million, or 40 percent of the total $1 billion tourists spent in Israel last year.

He said that the war in Lebanon, in his view, did not have a meaningful affect on the number of tourists to Israel. “The world has become accustomed to tension in the Mideast, and an event such as the war in Lebanon had only a partial influence on the number of American tourists to Israel,” Shoshani contended.

TRYING TO BREAK INTO THE GENERAL MARKET

He conceded that most of the tourist movement to Israel is an “ethnic tourism,” with some 65 percent of the tourists Jews and the rest Christians who visit the Holy Land for religious reasons, “to follow the steps of Jesus,” as Shoshani put it.

“We are trying very hard to break into the general market,” he said, noting that the theme of the Tourism Ministry’s advertising campaign is “Come to Israel, Stay With Friends.” He observed: “We purposely say stay with friends, not with family, in order to encourage the general public to visit Israel and enjoy their vacations there.”

Shoshani predicted that the upsurge in tourism to Israel will continue and that in 1984 more than 400,000 North Americans will visit Israel. He said that in January 1983, 11,000 Americans visited Israel, while last January 19,000 American tourists came to Israel, an increase of 43 percent.

“Barring any unforeseen developments, we believe that in 1985 we will reach the magic number of a half million tourists from North America to Israel,” Shoshani said.

NEXT STORY