Better Business

Israelis and Palestinians cooperate on tourism

By: J.L. Erickson

A surging number of travelers to Israel is fueling a cautious revitalization in the country’s tourism industry for the first time in four years.

Despite general tensions in the Middle East and continued concerns over security, nearly 1.5 million tourists visited Israel last year, up more than 40 percent from the previous year, according to the Israel Ministry of Tourism. The ministry says nearly a quarter of all of those travelers were from the United States.

Earlier this year, the Palestinian and Israeli tourism ministries announced they would, for the first time, work together in an effort to draw more travelers to Israeli and Palestinian territory and boost security efforts. In the formative stages, officials currently are working to further define areas of cooperation.

According to the Palestinian tourism ministry, tourism is not only a generator of job opportunities and a source of foreign currency, but also a tool for building bridges of confidence and better understanding between nations.

The optimistic initiative is just one sign of steadily growing travel to Israel. A surge in demand is prompting hotels, airlines and others across the industry to upgrade and launch a variety of new travel options. Airlines are also upgrading and adding routes. Last year, Continental restarted a second nonstop daily flight between Newark Liberty International Airport and Tel Aviv, and Israir now offers a direct flight to Tel Aviv from New York.

In December El Al, Israel’s national carrier, added two flights to New York, bringing the number of weekly flights on the route to 17. The carrier is also offering special airfares from select U.S. cities through June 15 starting at $799 from New York and $849 from Los Angeles and in June will begin installing broadband Internet access on its 747-400 and 777 aircraft.

Meanwhile, the hotel industry is also responding. For the first time since renewed violence began in 2000, a new hotel opened in Jerusalem. Located between the Novotel Jerusalem and the Olive Tree Hotel, the $60 million, 442-room Grand Court Hotel Jerusalem opened last month. The 10-story hotel features traditional amenities including room service, in-room safe and full concierge service.

The Dan Hotels Corp., which operates hotels including the King David Hotel and Dan Tel Aviv Hotel, has upgraded its Dan Gardens Ashkelon in the seaside resort city. The hotel’s lobby has been updated, the pool area redecorated, spa facilities expanded and upgraded, and a children’s outdoor amusement park has been created that includes a motor park with electric cars, a mini-cinema and a multimedia room. For adults, the area includes an espresso bar.

The Golden Tulip Hotels, Inns and Resorts reopened its 280-room Golden Tulip Eilat, formerly known as the Paradise Club Hotel, this month after a $3 million renovation. The 280-room, all-inclusive hotel offers the largest convention center in Eilat, a water park, entertainment lobby and a renovated dining room.

A growing number of hoteliers are eyeing future possibilities. Sheraton Moriah Israel, the country’s largest international hotel chain with flagship hotels such as the Sheraton Moriah in Tel Aviv, Sheraton Herods Palace Hotel in Eilat and the Sheraton Plaza in Jerusalem, saw occupancy rates rise 18 percent last year.

In a strategic plan unveiled earlier this year, the company said the change in the political environment, and the improved tourism industry, is spurring plans for the company to invest nearly $20 million in renovating and upgrading several of its hotels and looking for possible new acquisitions over the next four years.


Israel Ministry of Tourism
800 Second Ave.,
New York, NY 10017

The Israel Ministry of Tourism is the first stop for information on travel to Israel. Their Web site includes news and information on travel as well as listings of events, tourism centers, tourism associations and information centers.
There are special areas for travel agents and tour operators. E-mail:

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The trip covers a host of wineries spread throughout Israel and includes tour bus, activity fees, four- and five-star hotel stays in Jerusalem, Haifa, Galilee, Tel Aviv, the Dead Sea and more.
Cost is $1,695 per person based on double occupancy.