Going into 2020 – Israeli tourism is booming

Busy Israeli Market

According to the numbers just released by the Israel Bureau of Statistics, Israel has become an incredibly attractive destination. 4.5 million tourists visited the tiny nation in 2019 (a huge number for a country of just 9 million). Compare that with 2.89 million tourists in 2016, and Israeli tourism appears to be having a spate of miraculous growth.

Of course, there is a caveat. In 2014, Israel undertook Operation Protective Edge in response to the abduction of three Israeli teenagers. The news coverage of the conflict played worldwide and could certainly be blamed for the lowered tourism throughout 2015 and 2016, perhaps inflating the actual rate of growth in tourism numbers.

Yet 2015 and 2016 were relatively quiet years for rocket fire emerging from the Gaza strip, with only a few dozen strikes over those two years. Compare that with May of 2019, when Hamas launched 600 rockets toward Israeli civilian areas, and one must wonder what the record setting hordes of tourists were thinking as they descended upon Jerusalem’s holy and Tel Aviv’s not-so-holy sites.

So what’s changed?

The truth is, nobody can be 100% sure, but Israel’s own history may hold some of the answer. Hailed as a war-proof economy in modern times, Israelis have become so accustomed to living their daily lives under the threat of rocket fire, war, and constant threat of destruction that such events hardly seem to have an impact. Furthermore, despite consistent low-level and occasional high-level conflict with multiple neighbors, Israel has sustained a relatively high level of growth, with GDP rising 3.3% in 2019 vs the OECD average of only 1.7%.

Older Israeli’s may, however, remember a time before the country was so resilient.

Filmmaker Ari Folman, in an interview with NPR, describes his memory of growing up in war-time Israel:
“It was the Yom Kippur War in 1973. I was 10 years old then and, you know, there was nothing but war everywhere. We were kids in school, this is what we talked about. We were hooked to the news. We didn't have TV set at home back then, but on the radio all day we were - we couldn't, you know, in nighttime, we couldn't lit the light on - couldn't put the light on because we're frightened that Syrian aircrafts are going to come and bomb Haifa. And this was it.”

Compare that with a decade later, during the conflict in Lebanon:
“I came back home as a soldier, nine years later, and no one gave a damn, except my parents, of course. No one. Everybody was partying big time. The 80s culture came from Europe. It was really strong in terms of music and drugs and everything, so it was quite shocking.”

In other words, Israel adapted. Bombard any group with the same stressful images and fears constantly, and they begin to phase them out, much like an overused commercial. Perhaps the rest of the world is beginning to experience the same over-stimulation, particularly considering Israel’s near constant news coverage world-wide.

Credit must also be given to Israeli ad agency Allenby and their extremely successful “Two Cities One Break” campaign. Run globally, the ads featured Instagram prominently, putting a lot of focus on the potential for capturable moments as opposed to trying to sell anything specific about Israeli culture or historical monuments.

What does it all mean for Israel?

Jobs. Lots and lots of service jobs.
Considering Israelis at the lower tiers of society have struggled to bridge the wage gap generated by the rapid growth of its tech/startup culture, this is probably very good news. In an ideal world, restaurants, hotels, taxis, and other service sectors will have to bring more people in to handle the increased business. With low unemployment, this demand for workers could increase wages for less-skilled workers, bolstering this relatively weak portion of the Israeli economy.

Furthermore, the tourism is driving construction and development of new hotels. In 2019, over 25.8 million overnight stays occurred in Israeli hotels, with only half of those booked by locals. With hotel occupancy sitting at 70%, real estate moguls continue to expand to capitalize on the now booming market.

Who’s to blame them? With tourism projected to grow for the foreseeable future, and a healthy global economy, now is the time to invest in the future.