Israel sees tourism growth from China, India

Thu Mar 31, 2016 7:12am EDT
 
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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel is looking east to China and India to help drive tourism, as visits to the country have yet to fully recover from the 2014 Gaza war, Tourism Ministry Director-General Amir Halevi said.

In 2015, tourism grew 43 percent from China to some 50,000 visitors and the ministry sees that doubling by 2018. It will be helped by the start of nonstop flights next month by Hainan Airlines from Beijing to Tel Aviv that will add 35,000 extra seats to Israel a year.

"This will change the game," Halevi told Reuters. "The price of tickets will go down 50 percent."

Tourism in 2015 fell 3 percent to 3.1 million, following a war with Palestinian militants in Gaza in 2014. A weak Russian economy also weighed.

In the six-week Gaza conflict, Israeli air strikes killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, mostly civilians, while Palestinian militants killed six Israeli civilians and 67 soldiers.

The fighting briefly shut down Israel's main airport near Tel Aviv as a missile from Gaza fell nearby, while scenes of rockets fired into Israel and forcing Israelis into shelters led to many tourists cancelling plans.

Halevi played down the impact on tourism of Palestinian stabbing attacks in the last five months. Palestinians have killed 28 Israelis and two U.S. citizens in knife, car-ramming or gun assaults. At least 190 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces.

"For almost 70 years, we have been trying to manage tourism with things happening from time to time," Halevi said, pointing to a global trend of violence.

Tourism is a key growth engine for Israel, accounting for 2.5 percent of gross domestic product. It contributes over 40 billion shekels ($11 billion) into the economy yearly with about 200,000 employees, or 3 percent of Israel's workforce.   Continued...

 
A Skydiver jumps off a hot air balloon over the Jezreel Valley in northern Israel during an international hot air balloon festival near Maayan Harod National park September 30, 2015. REUTERS/Baz Ratner