Despite dire warnings of imminent conflict between Israel and Iran throughout the year, foreign tourists flocked to the Holy Land in record numbers.
According to Israel’s Ministry of Tourism, the Jewish calendar year 5772 was the “best tourism year ever,” with over 3.5 million visitors spending at least one day in Israel.
From January 2012 through the end of September, 2.6 million tourists visited Israel, also a record. The figure represents a 7 percent increase over the same time period last year and 6 percent more than the previous record in 2010.
The numbers caught tourism ministry officials and hotel industry executives by surprise. “The original tourism industry forecast for 2012 was that tourism would decline due to the repercussions of the Arab Spring in the region, as well as the Iranian threat,” said Uri Steinberg, who heads the American desk in the tourism ministry’s marketing department. “What we discovered was that the lure of foreign tourism to Israel was much more resilient than we thought.”
The number of American Jewish tourists jumped too, according to a tourism ministry survey. It found that 41 percent of all American tourists were Jewish, an increase of 3 percent over 2011.
Steinberg added, “The increasing trend of American Jews visiting Israel is influenced by friends and neighbors and not by the mass media, which has not painted a positive picture of the situation in and around Israel.” Steinberg said that in the coming months the ministry will launch a marketing campaign “based on the concept of ‘friends inviting friends’ to visit Israel in order to take advantage of the word-of-mouth positive experiences. … While the tourism statistics are encouraging, there is a glass ceiling. There is still a substantial percentage of American Jews who do not think of Israel as a great place to visit, and we need to tackle this problem.”
However, Steinberg, as well as Israeli hotel executives are cautiously optimistic about 2013. Based on a random survey of some of the top hotels in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, bookings for the fall and winter tourism seasons remain strong.
Tel Aviv, the country’s culture capital, has generated some buzzy tourism headlines of late. Emmy Award-winning actress Claire Danes, the star of “Homeland” (which filmed several episodes in Tel Aviv), recently posed for a sexy New York Times’ fashion magazine photo shoot in the city. And, according to a recent survey conducted among 13,000 Americans by BAV Consulting, which publishes a brand index ranking companies, products and cities according to various marketing parameters, Americans found Tel Aviv to be “more attractive than 90 percent of the most popular global brands,” including Abercrombie & Fitch and Prada.
As Israel’s hotels gear up for the winter travel season, below is a list of “winter deals” offered by some of them.
Inbal Jerusalem Hotel
The hotel is continuing its free rental car program. The “Hertz promotion” features a free car for guests who stay three consecutive nights (terms and conditions apply). There are also advance purchase (booking) rates available during various periods, where tourists receive up to 20 percent discount on rates. The hotel features a heated indoor pool and state-of-the-art health club. During the fall and winter months, Inbal’s award-winning chef, Moti Buchbut, prepares a series of new offerings in the Sofia Restaurant.
Dan Hotels www.danhotels.com
Dan Tel Aviv is offering a special seven-night rate good from Nov. 15-Jan. 7, 2013. The deal is valid for the following room categories: Standard, Deluxe, Deluxe with use of King David Crown Lounge & Executive Sea View.
Dan Panorama Tel Aviv has a promotion from Nov. 25-Feb. 28, 2013(excluding Dec. 23-Jan. 1) with special rates for guests staying a minimum of two nights.
Dan Panorama Jerusalem and Dan Boutique are offering special rates from Nov. 15-24.
The Dan Jerusalem recently opened a renovated fifth floor, adding 46 rooms to the 31 renovated on the sixth floor.
Sheraton Tel Aviv Hotel
The hotel is offering a “Winter Pamper” package from Nov. 16-March 2, 2013. The deal is based on a minimum four-consecutive-night stay in a Deluxe Room. The package features a daily buffet breakfast and a 50-minute massage, per person, per stay. Rates: Single $300; Double $320; Supplement for Club Room: $45; Supplement for Tower room: $90 The hotel also features one of the best kosher restaurants in Tel Aviv — Olive Leaf, which offers a French Mediterranean menu prepared by renowned chef Charlie Fadida.
The growing chain is offering a “Discover & Drive” package. Tourists can combine their stay at any of the participating Rimonim Hotels with a Hertz rental car. A group “E” vehicle for the duration of the vacation is available for pick-up at a variety of Hertz locations. Tourists are encouraged to include their preferred car pick-up location in their reservation remarks. Tourists who book this package are also entitled to free parking at a Rimonim Hotel (except Rimonim Optima in Ramat Gan).
The chain recently reintroduced its newly renovated Isrotel Ganim Hotel. Located on the shores of the Dead Sea (a 90-minute drive from Jerusalem), the Ganim is the only hotel that features two indoor Dead Sea water pools. The spa offers a variety of spa treatments (massage, mud treatments, shiatsu, reflexology, cosmetic and hair). Reservations are also being taken for the hotel chain’s newest venue — the Royal Beach Tel Aviv. In May of next year, the hotel will become part of Isrotel’s “Exclusive Collection” of five-star luxury-class hotels, which includes the Royal Beach Eilat, Beresheet and Carmel Forest hotels. The new, 230-room facility is located opposite Tel Aviv’s beachfront promenade with each room overlooking the Mediterranean and the cityscape of Tel Aviv.