Despite its substantial symbolic value, tourism is not an essential sector of the Israeli economy. Together, both external and internal tourism represent an estimated 3.4% of Israel’s GNP. In 2017, tourism increased, with a 9.5% rise in revenue from hotel registration, including revenue from incoming tourists going up 17.2% — despite substantial competition from Airbnb.
Incoming tourism increased 26.4% in 2017, and continued to grow during the first three months of 2018. In 2017, 3.6 million foreign tourists arrived in Israel. The largest number of visitors came from the United States, with 716,000 American tourists arriving in Israel in 2017 — with with 307,000 visitors from Russia, followed 284,000 visitors from France.
The increase in tourism in 2017 can be attributed to four factors: 1)the lack of terrorism; 2)the general worldwide surge in global tourism; 3)the growing number of international businesses that have created research and development centers in Israel accounts for substantial numbers of visitors; and finally, 4)Israel’s new "Open Skies" policy, which has considerably increased the number of airlines that fly into Israel, and has in turn, made the country more accessible and led to lower travel costs.
The rise in tourism to Israel continued in 2018, with the arrival of a total of 4,120,800 tourists. This represents an increase of 14% compared to 2017 and marked the first time the number of tourists to arrive in the country exceeded 4 million.
Israel, with its many tourist sites, significant to all three major religions, receives a relatively small number of visitors compared to other tourist destinations. France received 82 million visitors in 2016, and the US and Spain received 75 million during that same time. Thus, there is indeed potential for growth in this sector.
However, three main barriers exist. The first obstacle is a shortage of hotel rooms. Very few hotels have been built in recent years. Most of the new constructions have been boutique hotels. A second hurdle is the fact Israeli hotels are very expensive, making Israel a costly tourist destination. Third, and notably, while this past year has been relatively quiet in terms of terrorism or actual warfare, the possibility of that reality changing at any time deters both potential tourists, as well as investment in tourism.
During Covid 19 tourism in Israel came to a stop. It hopes that by the end of 2021 tourism will begin to recover.