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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
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.