Israeli entrepreneurs tap into growing tourism market
Israel’s economy has long been heavily reliant on tourism. With the holy sites of Jews, Muslims and Christians, there is an almost unlimited tourist potential. For decades, the tourist industry has focused on group tours, travel packages and generic activities, with a small niche catering for high-end luxury travel. But in the past few years, a new breed of tourism providers has emerged, catering to budget travelers, independent backpackers and those alternative tourist experiences.
The last few years have seen a number of independent hostels spring up, with admirable occupancy rates compared to the established and rather faceless traditional hotels.
The Fauzi Azar Inn in Nazareth, for example, changed the face of tourism in the city. When Maoz Inon, founder of the hostel, refurbished a 200-year old Arab villa in the city back in 2005, most tourists would come and visit the churches on guided group tours, and almost never spent the night in Nazareth, while the Lonely Planet travel guide advised travelers to give the city a miss. Now, the Fauzi Azar is an award-winning destination, regularly packed, and has even supported the establishment of five additional hostels in the city. Inon was also a founding partner of the Abraham Hostel in Jerusalem, which has been awarded 5th best hostel in the world by HostelWorld.com. The hostel has a self-service kitchen, a bar, nightly activities and its own successful tour company, Abraham Tours.
Abraham Tours has challenged the traditional model of tour operators in a number of ways, most notably with its concept of self-guided tours aimed at the budget market, and with its unique cooperation with local Palestinian guides in Bethlehem, Hebron and other West Bank cities. The company has won acclaim from online review sites, and has managed to take on the big traditional tour operators with considerable success on tours to highly-competitive destinations such as Petra and Bethlehem.
The market for alternative independent tourism is already big, and is likely to grow as budget airlines such as Easyjet and Berlin Wings start running regular low-cost flights between Tel Aviv and Europe. This can be attested to by TouristIsrael.com, which started a few years ago as a small travel blog, and now receives over 100,000 visitors a month looking for information on independent travel in the country. With new hostels, alternative tours and travel initiatives, the potential is huge.